Quarantine Literature: Peter Handke

Image_Elyeser Szturm

By Artur Con*

Commentary on the theatrical work, by the Austrian writer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2019

While urgencies accumulate, overlap and mutually enhance each other, it seems silly to continue with the analysis of literary texts that have nothing to say directly about the situation. Even so, we can observe that in this context – and actually from it – not little is said about the role that art, contradicting its censors and detractors (the current holders of power), can or should have in facing growing adversities.

In the midst of the pandemic, art becomes a way of dealing with isolation, whether as a valuable pastime (raised to the status an indispensable item for maintaining mental health: “art as I breathe”, as the Cultural Institute of Banco Itaú put it), or as an element of cultural training, capable of making the dead time of quarantine rich and productive for those who know how to take advantage of it. lo (we are urged to stop, but without ceasing to produce).

In an earlier moment, when we were “only” facing the violent advance of the extreme right, artistic manifestations were identified as spaces for the survival of dissident subjects or anti-fascist discourses.

Between entertainment and artivism, civilizational heritage and critical opposition, there is an abundance of ways of seeing the arts with good eyes, against those who still insist on accusing them of being useless narcissistic exercises, therefore unworthy of time, attention and (above all) public investment.

It remains to be seen whether, in the midst of so many ways of justifying the existence of artistic activity, attributing to it functions and capabilities that make art not just art, there is room left for some understanding of what would be the meaning and power of art as art, beyond its instrumentalization – that is, domination – by practices and political discourses that are external to it.

The discussion is not new; recent events show that it is by no means outdated. I see an opportunity to take it up again in the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded last October to the Austrian Peter Handke, who since the beginning of his literary activity in the 60s was thrown (and also placed himself) in the center of this battlefield.

Against engaged art

Peter Handke's works were written under the sign of a controversial refusal of engaged art, which, according to the writer, "does not understand that literature is made with language, and not with the things described with language", neglecting "the how manipulable language is for social and individual ends”, as if the writers of political works believed “naively to be able to look through language at objects as through a glass”.

For Handke, engagement is necessary in the field of social praxis, and specifically Marxism, which he names as “the only possible solution to the dominant contradictions”. But this commitment “cannot remain unaltered by the literary form”, in which it “loses in any case its serious, direct, unequivocal character”, since “the one to whom the message must be transmitted does not primarily receive the message, but the form".

Just as “a chair on stage is a chair in the theater” necessarily, the engagement of the scene will always be a staged, represented engagement, mere words that “no longer point to things, but to themselves”, and with that “lose their innocence". In his taste for polemics, Handke does not hesitate to assert his supposedly anti-political position: “So I gladly allow myself to be called an inhabitant of the ivory tower”.[1]

One of the most striking characteristics of his plays is the reduction of scenic language to its most basic vocabulary, dismantling the complex composition of text, dialogue, situation, figures and actions that constitute the drama to which theater has traditionally been equated and reduced. Thus, as I summarized in that first text, Handke created both “talking pieces” (his first works, from the 1960s, but only recently published in Brazil) and “silent pieces”.

The former denied any drama, presenting speeches devoid of action or characters, close to prose or poetry. Later creations, on the other hand, only offered rubrics with descriptions of figures and actions that would occupy the scene, without saying anything (which brought the experience of the theater spectator closer to that of the cinema). It is also worth mentioning radio plays that also lack dialogue, leaving only sounds and noise to paint landscapes in the listener's imagination. Different procedures with identical anti-dramatic effect: thus Handke became one of the first representatives of the today recognized and theorized tendencies of a contemporary theater.

It was, I argued, a way of giving continuity to the Austrian literary tradition which, unlike the German [Brecht's, for example, a frequent target of Handke's polemics] with which it divides the language, places at the center of the writer's activity a melee with the linguistic field, working above all with words in their materiality, a lineage that had developed under the sign of a famous compatriot, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, for whom “the limit of my language is the limit of my world”. At the time, I concluded that Handke made exploring this double frontier the motto of his work. With a little more calm, I allow myself to return to each of these three paths of dramaturgical experimentation undertaken by the author.

know how to speak

For his first four theater texts, Handke coined the term Sprechstücke: “speaking plays”, as they have been translated in different countries, but even more so “speech plays”: not only theater works, but pieces of language, chunks of speech taken from reality and grafted onto the scene, a bit like ready-mades literary.[2]

facing the public premiered in 1966. In a single long speech, four speakers on an empty stage comment on the theatrical situation in which they find themselves, refusing the usual drama: here there are no “objects that appear to be other objects” or “a time that appears to be another time”. , but actual, actual time and space. At least that's what the text says – written in another time and another space, which does not cease to contaminate and complicate the pure presence that the speakers claim to inhabit.

Handke wants to “make people aware of the world of the theater – not the outside world”, pointing out that, in the theater, “there is a theatrical reality going on at every moment”, where “objects are deprived of their normal function”, acquiring “a artificial function in the game that I force them to play”.[3] Likewise, the insults promised in the title and uttered at the end of the play are defunctionalized. After all, is an announced offense, for which a ticket was bought, still offensive? The speakers announce: “we won't insult you, we'll just use offensive words, which you use yourself”, so “you won't have to feel insulted”. Then they say goodbye politely: “You were welcome. We thank you. Goodnight".

From the title, accusing yourself continues and reverses the shape of the previous piece. Two speakers list the events of a lifetime, from birth to the development of conscience, language, knowledge and civility, responsibility and duty. The exhaustive series includes contradictions: it is not the narrative of a consistent fictional self, but “a kind of abstract autobiography”, “a mosaic of everyone's existence”, according to Nicholas Hern.[4] Why is listing all the events in everyone's lives an indictment?

The play oscillates between the comic banality of statements (like “I wanted to open doors by pulling them when I should have pushed them”) and the seriousness of the models of this moral mechanism: Stalinist self-criticism and Christian confession.[5] How I know Qualquer action had always been an infraction, and the subject had always been trapped in a vicious circle of guilt and remission: “I became. I became responsible. I became guilty. I became forgivable. I should atone. To atone for the crime of being what I am.” The listing ends by including itself as the last and biggest infraction: “I went to the theater. I listened to this piece. I said this piece. I wrote this play.”

predicting the future it was actually the first play written by Handke, back in 1965, but it only became public thanks to the success of its author. From a burnout with comparisons and metaphors[6] the whole text is born: a list of tautological phrases, created mainly from commonplaces, in which one thing is only compared to itself: “the flies will die like flies” or “the house of cards will collapse like a house of cards ”. With the future tense, the phrases suggest the prophecy promised in the title. But, according to Handke, "it's a prediction that goes nowhere."[7]

Johannes Vanderath reads in the text “the image of a world in which catastrophes will occur (...) but in which banal and everyday life will go on”.[8] Nicholas Hern, on the other hand, sees there the “effort to restore the powers of simple perception”, putting “the emphasis back on individuality, on reality of the phenomenon itself.[9] I propose the undecidability of the two readings: the foreseen future is so much the catastrophe, that for Walter Benjamin it would be precisely the maintenance of the status quo, as for redemption, a state in which, says Theodor Adorno, “everything is as it is and, at the same time, entirely different”.[10]

calling for help it is the last and smallest of the “speech pieces”, debuting and being published in 1967. The instructions included in the printed version summarize the proposal well: “the role of the speakers is to discover the word help through the labyrinth of a great number of sentences and words” that “are not used in their proper sense”, but “only express the urgency of help”; “While speakers look for the word 'help' they are in need of help; when they finally find the word, they no longer need the word 'help'”.

Here is also where the procedure of ready made linguistic: we have a collage of phrases taken from reality, adding only a “no” to the end of the quotes, as an answer, denying that the searched piece of speech was found. There are several formulas from everyday life, from public spaces, newspapers, etc.: “the general led the brave troops to victory: NO; the cutlery has been sterilized: NO.”; or “is breakfast included in the price: NO.” The attempts are shorter and shorter, increasing the pace and the sense of urgency. At last he finds himself: “Help?: YES! help?: YES! (…) help".

It does not seem to be a mere coincidence that, while “speech pieces” emerged, the idea of ​​a new focus for thought gained space in philosophy, which from the XNUMXth century onwards would center on language. This “linguistic turn” encompassed both the Anglo-Saxon analytic tradition (from Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein) and the continental one, especially in the French structuralist and post-structuralist version (from Saussure to Deleuze and Derrida, even reaching Americans like Judith Butler). .[11]

This tendency was the target of several criticisms by Marxist thinkers, who saw in it a postmodern linguistic idealism that would use the idea of ​​the “construction of reality” to separate us from the real, in correspondence with a late capitalism that produces a world dematerialized, impalpable, saturated with information.[12]

Artistic projects such as Handke's were not exempt from criticism, which did not represent the world outside the theater, but staged the theater itself as a hermetically closed space where language turned in on itself. For these works, the term “postmodern” was often used, which thereby leaves aside its analytical complexity to be reduced to little more than a mere curse.[13]

Now, if it is necessary to take seriously the criticism of certain Marxist thinkers to thoughts centered on language, I believe that a theater that wants to be truly political also needs to be up to the challenge posed in the Austrian writer’s “speech plays”, finding there elements for a critique of the ideology of language, an ideology often replicated by engaged theatre.[14]

This criticism, it should be noted, is aesthetic and not theoretical. For example, in facing the public, it is not difficult to see that apparent objective statements such as “you don't think about anything” or “we think for you” imply the more or less forceful suggestions: “don't think”, “let us think for you”. But also “you don't accept that we think for you” and “your thoughts are free” hide orders: “don't accept that we think for you” and “free your thoughts”. Transcribed, the imperatives reveal an equivalence behind the apparent opposition: “let me think for you” and “think for yourself”; as orders, they are practically the same, since in both cases it is the enunciator who determines the act of thought, whatever its content.

Now, this paradoxical equivalence is at the base of the political theater so criticized by Handke. Offering watchwords and doctrines or simply intending to ask questions for the spectator to answer for himself, thus learning to think critically, this scene determines its political effect in a one-way street, in which it is up to the receiver to follow what was determined by the artist, including his alleged emancipation. The aim of awakening an active critical sense in the public presupposes its absence in the initial situation, at the limit it implies pointing it out as passive, ignorant, alienated. Thus, observations become orders, and orders become insults – there, more than in the parody of cursing with which the play ends, is the true affront to the public.

Em accusing yourself, the accumulation of simple phrases reporting actions objectively, added to the title of the play, dyes the entire text with a certain guilt, making it clear that some rule or expectation has been broken. But this guilt is an effect of language, the result of speaking in the first person, regardless of whether it is “really felt”: it matters only that he complies with the ritual of expiation, as in the models of self-criticism and confession cited by Handke.

In fact, the self itself is the effect of the repetition of the word “I” (let us remember that the statements are contradictory and do not refer to a cohesive character), and everything he does or says sounds like an expression of that subjectivity that, on the contrary, is constructed by gestures and speech. Thus, “I expressed myself through movements” and “my acts”, as well as “my inactivity”, and finally “I unmasked myself in each of my acts”, that is, “I demonstrated in each of my acts respecting or disregarding the rules”.

Presented in the theater, this logic gains another layer of possible reading. as in facing the public every direction to the spectator reveals a judgment about him, in accusing yourself every scenic construction of an enunciating I imposes on him the role of defendant, of offender, at least potentially. On a court-stage (recurrent image of political theater) there can be no innocents.

predicting the future reduces the communicative function of language to pure tautology. What is communicated in "tomorrow will come as surely as tomorrow"? Strictly speaking, nothing beyond what the form itself says: that a thing is and will be that thing, that A = A, that the world is as it is. Which seems to confine us to a principle of immobility and conformity. And wouldn't this be another setback of a political theater too concerned with portraying the workings of the world? The realistic principle that most engaged works obey does not run the risk of merely reaffirming and repeating what everyone (spectators and artists alike) already knows about the terrible state of things, serving more to tie us to it than to break free from your bonds?

When, however, we read in Handke phrases such as “reality will become reality” and “truth will become truth”, we can hear resounding in their poetic and prophetic tone precisely the opposite of that pure identity that they seemed to want to communicate: if reality will come true, it is because it is not really real yet; if the truth will become truth, it is because the truth today is a lie. As in true dialectical thinking, it is the contradiction that moves. But without a language capable of expressing this contradiction in what is less evident, that is, without an aesthetic enunciation that makes the contradiction sensible as a contradiction, it can easily be reduced to the habit of sterile knowledge, even if correct.

calling for help takes content from pieces of everyday speech, turned into mere sound means for someone trying to say. Not to say another content, but to establish a relationship, a form of contact: help or help. Once again, I propose to read the play also as a commentary on theater itself, and above all political theater: all its pretensions – to represent, understand, judge, criticize, teach, liberate, awaken, in short, to operate – perhaps hide the mere desire of encounter, and therefore also the real lack of that encounter.

His critical operation only reinforces this lack: there is no real contact possible in a theater that sets itself up as a court where everyone is judged and as a school where the artist must teach something to the spectator. But when speakers encounter the word “help,” they no longer need it. The search for help was identical to the search for language that allows expressing the search for help. When the “speech plays” enact the usual functioning of language, it is suspended, it becomes inoperative.

know how to shut up

What happens when Handke's dramaturgical procedures, based on critical reflection on language, are transposed to create two plays without any speech? “Don't tell anyone what you saw; stick to the image”, says the epigraph of the second of them, attributed to “the words of the oracle of Dodona” (probably invented by himself).[15]

It might seem that the author, having faced the coercive effect of language in the “speech plays”, would find a solution in muteness, in unmediated “sensuous certainty” (to speak with Hegel). Or that he followed another famous Wittgenstein formula: “What cannot be said, one must remain silent” (contradicted by Adorno, who previously saw the need to “say what cannot be said”[16]). However, the proposed images offer us more than that.

For Jean-Pierre Sarrazac, the aesthetic form of classical drama would basically consist of “necessary variations on a single theme: the confrontation between master and slave”, a “dialogue rhetoric intended to make the adversary surrender – or rather : oblige him to conform, to approve his own destiny and, if necessary, to approve his own destruction”; the playwright – analyzing “modern and contemporary drama” (later versus “postdramatic”) – suggests the abandonment of this dialectic by recent works.[17]

Now The pupil wants to be a tutor, written by Handke in the late 60s, seems to do the opposite: abandoning drama and dialogue in favor of dialectics. The play's text contains only meticulous descriptions of the scene, building the relationship between two figures that inhabit a farm, the two characters referred to in the title (a quote from The storm of Shakespeare). It is notable that, reduced to rubrics, the play ends up giving them a more than merely indicative role, creating comments whose transposition to a mute scene would not be obvious: “The Pupil eats the apple as if no one was watching (when one observes, the apples are eaten rather affectedly),' or: 'Can it be discerned in the Pupil's way of eating that he is a subordinate? Not really.”[18]

In fact, the didascalias here describe less what is happening in the scene than the (imagined) path of the spectator's gaze, transformed into a camera: “As we looked so carefully, we almost didn't see that the figure had already finished eating the apple” . The entry of the Tutor (whose function is seen by the described appearance) interrupts the naturalness of the Pupil's action, without saying anything: just the first fixed and long gaze is enough to slow down and then interrupt the act of eating. And then the light goes out and the first scene ends. There will be ten in total, always following this gestural revelation of the developments in the relationship, whether they are acts of submission or revolt. Even without words, a look or a way of holding a newspaper is enough to establish a language, that is, the coercion of codes (and the codes of coercion).

However, this language is not always readable to the spectator, generating an enigmatic atmosphere: we know that there is a hierarchical relationship, but not what its exact nature is (boss and employee, teacher and student, perhaps father and son?) what it allows and what it forbids, what it demands and what it leaves out. Therefore, we cannot unequivocally differentiate between submission and revolt either.

On top of that, our difficulty reading can turn into the urge to read even more, to see every little element of the scene as symbolic, as Hern notes: “Does the apple, say, have any extra meaning beyond its applesauce? Perhaps it represents food in general”, and then the Tutor's gaze would designate a “moral sanction” that says: “You shall not eat until you have worked”; or else, “more generally, by eating the apple, sitting in the sun, doing nothing, the inferior can forget his status from inferior until rudely reminded of him by the arrival of his superior.”[19]

However, abstraction and the absence of a key that clarifies the action once and for all are inevitable. In the penultimate frame, the Tutor teaches the Pupil to operate a beet cutting machine. In the last one, we only see the Pupil pouring sand into a tub of water. Between the two, the dark stage and the noise of the machine, then the sound of breathing and silence. What happened? Without the aid of verbal language, the play returns the strangeness to the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave, allowing us to experience again, in what is necessarily disconcerting, something we thought we already knew.

This procedure of presenting only one long rubric in the play would be repeated and radicalized several years later in The time when we didn't know anything about each other, from 1992. The initial nomination asks for “a dozen actors and amateurs”, but they will be multiplied into countless figures that will inhabit the scene, which it represents (or is, as in the São Paulo production in Parque da Luz by Cia. Elevador de Teatro Panoramic) “an open square, in a clear light”.

The first events already set the tone for everything to come: “The action starts with someone running across the square. Then, coming from the opposite side, another person, equally in a hurry. Then, two people pass each other, also at a fast pace, each of them followed, diagonally and at a small distance, by a third and a fourth. Break".

Everything else will be variations: these passers-by have their movements and gestures detailed, they gain gender, traits and characters, costumes and objects, attitudes and intentions. His entries are interspersed with events independent of them: “A plane passes overhead, for one, two seconds; the shadow of the plane? and soon we see “a cloud of dust; smoke” or we hear the sounds of birds. Klaus Kastberger observes that, without a narrative that organizes people and actions, all elements and events in the play start to have equal value, in an absolute democracy.[20]

From this idea, we can read the play as a critical exploration of the very idea of ​​character, central in traditional dramatic theater, where it always appears from a hierarchical organization: there are protagonists and antagonists, supporting actors and extras, and eventually some intermediate categories. But not here. Even if named and recognizable figures also enter, such as Papagueno (from Magic Flute by Mozart), Puss in Boots or even Chaplin, they are not even more relevant: “as time goes by, each of the figures is nothing more than a simple passer-by, on his way somewhere, waving his arms, representing in one way or another this role of passer-by”.

Without hierarchy between subjects, and even between subjects and objects, human forms and non-human forms, the very idea of ​​a character – whose multiplication at first could make it seem like the central element of the entire piece – collapses, leaving only figures.

Sometimes something threatens to take hold, some event, some scene, but it soon disperses. A curious moment seems to oppose the general equality: “A beauty who, at first only visible from the back, suddenly turns to… me!” Who is this “I” that suddenly speaks, turning the entire rubric of the play into a narrative, (and, as an attentive reader notes, potentially even a first-person one![21]), only to disappear again? He too is anyone.

But the passage perfectly demonstrates how the democracy established in the play is not transmuted into indifference: each moment, even if equal to all the others, or precisely because it is as extraordinary as any other, can bring a surprise, a singularity (just as for Benjamin every second is the narrow door through which the messiah can enter).[22]

Similarly, only one figure stands out from the others: “the idiot in the square”. He imitates the other passers-by, “kisses the tracks of their feet”, crawls out of the scene and re-enters “in a fulminating manner”, to once again observe and imitate the others. Perhaps he is not even an individual, but a function performed by several: at a given moment, “the idiot from the square a little while ago, or another” enters.

He integrates groups of passers-by and the next moment “he is alone again and leaves a bit lost”. Finally, in his last entry, he is renamed: “the idiot, alias chief, alias lord of the square”; if it can be, even within this democracy of subjects, objects and events, it is because it brings in itself this non-differentiation, which is now no longer seen as a defect, but strength, the power to detach itself from all understanding that is too fixed and find the singular event.

This may also clarify why Hans-Thies Lehmann sees theater in this work as “a search for a space of innocence (…) which does not mean denying real guilt, but making recognizable in art a possible alternative sphere beyond the chain of events”. guilt, punishment, and sin.”[23] In this way, we could see in the play the counter-image of what we read in accusing yourself: a possibility of suspending, even for a moment, the regular operation of understanding, judgment and language, putting concrete experience in the place of abstract and repeated schemes.

Of the two supposedly silent plays, Lehmann insists that they are “poetic texts, by no means simply technical indications of staging, they are rather, even if nothing is said, 'theater of language' as much as the others”. Which means that, if there is a revaluation of sensation, it is not an “immediate” experience, but achieved by the exhaustive work of words: it is an “innocence” after and not before guilt, it is its determined negation. Returning to Wittgenstein and Adorno, perhaps it is precisely about what can already be said that it is necessary to remain silent, without turning one's back, on those who know how to find and say what cannot be said.

know how to resonate

Finally, I quickly return to the end of the 60s, when Handke wrote four radio plays, increasingly following the experimental thrust of his work in other genres.[24] It is worth remembering that in Germanic-speaking countries and especially in Germany, the gender of the radio play it is not a mere remnant of the Radio Age, in which it arose and has definitely passed away, as it seems to us. There, perhaps more than anywhere else, these sound recordings are still produced and consumed, from entertainment series to versions with greater artistic pretensions.

The first, called just radio play, presents a situation that can be located at first: a police interrogation – once again thematizing guilt and judgment. A “Questioner” (to which others are added later) interrogates the “Questionee”, who has been the victim of some violence. But what at first looks like a dialogue soon reveals its inconsistency: the lines of the two parties never fit together. The Respondent in particular gives the impression of always deviating from the Questioner's attempt to obtain an objective answer, whether about what happened or about something much more banal (such as whether he is sitting comfortably or whether he sweetens his tea).

Gradually, we gain an idea of ​​what might have happened: “The first way to scare me was word games”. The linguistic character of the alleged crime becomes more explicit: “They pursued me with words in such a way that even in sleep I did not find myself, but words: they pursued me even into sleep with their words”. That the pronoun “sie” used to speak of alleged criminals sounds, in a radio play, exactly like “Sie”, used to formally refer to the receiver (which I tried to translate with the indeterminate subject), causes all aggressions to be launched at the same time to undetermined third parties and to the questioners themselves. Eventually this identity is reinforced with the question, "Did you look at the questioners?" We entered a loop temporal: the interrogation is the very aggression that it aims (unsuccessfully, thanks to the resistance of the Questioned) to elucidate.

Yes, Radio piece No. 2 dilutes the situation further: we listen to the radio channel of a taxi company (which already proposes an interesting reflection on the situation of the radio play), but no cohesive narrative emerges from it. Pablo Gonçalo sees in the text “quick images of a stroll metropolitan experience that occurs between the car, the driver, the passengers, the street and passers-by and capture the movement of people, the moments and the sensations that reverberate between the metropolis and its inhabitants”.[25]

But in the opening indications of the text, Handke insists: “we tried not to offer none topography of a city”; and, even more, that "the intention of the play is to avoid everything that it should deal with according to its model, the radio channel of the taxi". For this reason, we hear scenes in which the taxi drivers begin, for no reason, to sing in chorus; we hear quotes from films in English and monologues “in the tone of [theater of] boulevard".

The third text, noise of a noise, simply presents a list of noises interspersed with the word “pause” repeated a few times (between one and seven, suggesting shorter or longer intervals, and sometimes even appearing one and a half times, that is, once in full and then only the first syllable). What most calls attention when reading the piece, however, is that all the sounds described would certainly be very difficult to distinguish in a recording: “a piece of raw liver falls on the stone floor” or “someone slowly runs a fingernail over a leaf of paper".

Handke says this is his favorite of the four, because it leads to the ultimate consequences of reducing the text to indications of sounds without a logical chain, giving up offering any meaning to the listener; the director of the recording, Heinz von Cramer, reports his perplexity: “I did exactly as written, but nothing new emerged for me, no new field of tension”.[26]

Finally, wind and sea (which also lends the title to the published set of four radio plays) summarizes the transition from language to pure noise, by indicating what should be heard minute by minute, in a total of just eleven. At the beginning, two children talk, but without relation to each other. Then, reinforcing that it is not a dialogue, each one repeats what they had just said. After that we will only hear distant, overlapping and broken voices, without definite lines or just single words.

The sound effects, appearing sparsely at the beginning, gain prominence: from the flapping of a bird's wings (minute 1), we begin to hear breathing (minutes 2 to 5), and finally the wind (from minute 5, adding up to breathing at first, then louder and louder, howling). There is a trickle (minute 6), a rumble and a burst (minute 7), while a loudspeaker announces: “Attention! Attention! Rennes Station is closed” (the ad gets lower and lower until it disappears). In the 8th minute, “it's as if we had stopped in front of these noises. We hear the noises of wind and sea. The noises get louder.” In minute 9, it reads only “Vento e mar.” At minute 10, the same words again, in capital letters: “VENTO E MAR.”. Finally, in the 11th minute, the words in capital letters and in a much larger font than anything up until then.

Gonçalo draws attention to how the set of radio plays “awaken a writing gesture closer to musical composition to sublimate, through sounds, a dramaturgical tradition centered primarily on words”. This idea is reinforced by the last indication of Radio piece No. 2, in which John Lennon’s scream at the end of “Helter Skelter” would be heard (“on the original recording!”): “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” to hear a Show and not a story. On the other hand, I remember that this score does not have a fixed and rigorous code like music, making room for notations that gain poetic value and humor, as we have seen.

These two simultaneous aspects, sound and verbal, are worked not only in a quest to “rekindle the chemistry of the imagination in the spectator, essential for him to be able to see and put the facts of a story before his eyes”, as Gonçalo wants, but in a constant disturbance of this visualization, never achieving it perfectly. He always turns to noise, which common sense understands only as an unpleasant sound or as something that hinders communication.

But the philosopher Martin Seel well reminds us that noise can be, much more, “a fundamental phenomenon of aesthetic suspension”, opening “the perceivable sensory process of something happening without a clearly identifiable sense of what is happening”. As Seel says (about the writing of the also Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, a great admirer and defender of Handke), “the text drifts into noise”, becoming “an imprecation against the fatal power of a speech that buries any conceivable object under itself”. ”.[27]

Despite his polemics against engaged art, Handke always believed in the power of theater and literature: already in the 60s he said he was “convinced that I could transform others through my literature”, and that “because I recognized that I could transform myself through literature", because the "reality of literature" had made him more "attentive and critical of real reality" (starting with himself and his surroundings), and "because I no longer consider myself definitive". Literature would precisely enable “a breaking down of all apparently definitive images of the world”.

More recently, in conversations in 2012 and 2013 with the playwright Thomas Oberender, the author resumed his criticism of “a certain language” before which he would think: “now I die of so much horror”, insofar as in it “they know exactly where something happens, full of hate”, that is, “they know exactly where the good ones are and where the bad ones are”. Perhaps, then, it was a case of valuing that moment when one does not know, as the title of his second silent play suggests. Trying to let go of habitual knowledge, which sustains habitual activities.

This could be a political potency of the aesthetic, without putting it at the service of politics. Handke even claimed to have a "credo", which could be "a political program of today": "that many more useless activities be done", because "all these useful activities are ending the world".[28]

*Arthur Kon, doctoral candidate in Philosophy at USP, is the author of On Theatercracy: aesthetics and politics of contemporary theater in São Paulo (Annablume).


[1]. Peter Handke. Ich bin ein Bewohner des Elfenbeinturms. In: Aufsätze I. Berlin: Suhrkamp, ​​2018. (Where not otherwise indicated, the translation is ours.)

[2]. Samir Signeu (org. and trans.). Peter Handke: Spoken Pieces. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2015. I will always quote the pieces from this translation, but I modify and correct where necessary (especially in the titles of the four pieces), because serious translation problems unfortunately harm – without completely destroying, of course – the important work of make these works available to the Brazilian public.

[3]. Peter Handke and Arthur Joseph. Nauseated by Language: From an Interview with Peter Handke. In: The drama review, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1970.

[4]. Hern, Nicholas. Peter Handke: Theater and Anti-theatre. London: Oswald Wolff, 1971. Our translation.

[5]. Peter Handke and Thomas Oberender. Nebeneingang or Haupteingang? Gespräche über 50 Jahre Schreiben fürs Theater. Berlin: Suhrkamp, ​​2014.

[6]. Explicit in Ossip Mandelstam's epigraph: “Where to begin?/ Everything creaks, shifts and staggers/ The air vibrates with comparisons/ One word is no more suitable than another./ The earth buzzes with metaphors…”

[7]. Handke and Oberender, Nebeneingang…, op. cit.

[8]. Johannes Vanderath, Peter Handkes Publikumsbeschimpfung: Ende des aristotelischen Theaters? In: The German Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 2, 1970.

[9]. Hern, Peter Handke…, op. cit.

[10]. Walter Benjamin. Flights. Translation Irene Aron and Cleonice Paes Barreto Mourão. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG; São Paulo: Official Press of the State of São Paulo, 2009. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory. Translation by Arthur Morão. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1982.

[11] It was published in 1967 the volume the linguistic turn (The linguistic turn), organized by Richard Rorty, an anthology of texts from the analytic tradition partially responsible for popularizing the term.

[12]. See Terry Eagleton. materialism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016 and Fredric Jameson. The prison-house of language: A critical account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.

[13]. Often quoted from Jameson's analyses, but without his dialectical insight, which never lets itself be reduced to a univocal censorship of contemporary cultural phenomena.

[14]. Defended and undertaken, for example, by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in A Marxist Philosophy of Language. Leiden: Brill, 2006. The importance he attaches to the project is visible in the assessment that “the recent and spectacular defeats of the workers' movement on a world scale were due in no small measure to the fact that the enemy class always won the battle of language, and the workers' movement has always neglected this terrain.

[15]. Peter Handke. The time when we didn't know anything about each other. Translation and introduction by João Barrento. Available at: http://cinfo.tnsj.pt/cinfo/REP_1/A6/C26/D3F3.pdf.

[16] Theodor Adorno. negative dialectic. Translation Marco Antonio Casanova. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2009.

[17]. Jean-Pierre Sarrazac. The Future of Drama: Contemporary Dramatic Writing. Translation by Alexandra Moreira da Silva.Lisboa: Campo das Letras, 2002. Of course, a quick look at some of the central playwrights of the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries – from Brecht and Beckett to Heiner Müller and Elfriede Jelinek, passing through Arrabal and Harold Pinter – will suffice to refute this French idea.

[18]. Peter Handke. Der Mündel will Vormund sein. In: Theaterstücke I. Berlin: Suhrkamp, ​​2018.

[19]. Hern, Peter Handke…, op. cit.

[20]. Klaus Kastberger. Lesen und Schreiben: Peter Handkes Theater als Text. In: Kastberger and Katharina Pektor (org.). Die Arbeit des Zuschauers: Peter Handke und das Theater. Vienna: Jung und Jung, 2012.

[21]. Karl Katschthaler. Zum Schweigen bringen: Peter Handkes Die Stunde, da wir nichts voneinander wußten im Kontext von Ästhetiken der Abwesenheit. In: Attila Bombitz and Katharina Pektor. „Das Wort sei gewagt“: ein Symposium zum Werk von Peter Handke. Vienna: Praesens, 2019.

[22]. Walter Benjamin. About the concept of history. In: Magic and technique, art and politics: Essays on literature and cultural history. Translation by Sérgio Paulo Rouanet. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1987.

[23]. Hans-Thies Lehmann. Peter Handkes postdramatische Poetiken. In: Kastberger and Pektor, op. quote..

[24]. Peter Handke. Wind und Meer: Vier Hörspiele. In: Theaterstücke I. Berlin: Suhrkamp, ​​2018.

[25]. Pablo Gonçalo Pires de Campos Martins. Fragments of the Filmic Sentence: Peter Handke's intermedial dramaturgy. Brazilian Journal of Presence Studies, v. 7, no. 2, Porto Alegre, May/August 2017.

[26]. Both cited at http://handkeonline.onb.ac.at/node/1547.

[27]. Martin Seel. “Standstills in Motion: Cinema and Elsewhere”. In: Reinhold Görling, Barbara Gronau and Ludger Schwarte (eds.) Aesthetics of Standstill. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019, and id. Aesthetics of appearing. Translation Sebastián Pereira Restrepo. Madrid: Katz, 2010.

[28]. Peter Handke. Ich bin ein Bewohner des Elfenbeinturms, op. cit. and Peter Handke and Thomas Oberender. Nebeneingang or Haupteingang?, on. cit.

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