Senin, 17 Juli 2006

The poet's responsibility: the Peter Handke Affair

This is far from the first time Peter Handke is being controversial. And it's not the first time he describes the "Serb question" in a scandalizing way.
But after he spoke during Slobodan Milosevic's funeral, all hell broke lose. All cultural hell.
Shocking? Certainly. The question is: why?
Among the many fascinating opinions, one exchange I particularly appreciated.
Botho Strauss:
Those who fail to see guilt and error as the stigmata (or even as stimulants in some cases) of great minds, shouldn't busy themselves with true poets and thinkers.

And Guenter Grass, answering:
Heine – like Goethe too, by the way – remained a fan of Napoleon until his death. The horror and the terror that Napoleon spread, how he used up his armies on the way to Russia – all of that was of no consequence for his admirers. Heine runs equally afoul of today's criteria whereby Handke is condemned for his absurd, one-sided support for Serbia... Handke has always tended to adopt the most nonsensical arguments and counter-positions. But what I dislike about the current discussion is the double standard, as if you could grant writers the right to err as a special kind of favour. The writer Botho Strauß said something along these lines (text in German here)... I have a hard time with granting writers a kind of bonus for geniuses which excuses their partisanship for the worst and most dangerous nonsense.

After this whole affair, Handke gave several interviews. Some of them (copy here) witty and slightly aggressive, others invoking Yugoslavian history to explain, to justify. But how well does he know history? I certainly am no specialist in this matter, but whenever someone explains history too well, even it is to correct what someone else said, I have my doubts, and look for a second opinion.
Probably the most fascinating thing about this affair, is that a poet still has that much power. Yes, you will say, but acting as a politician. No. Acting as someone for whom the polis matters. Zoon politicon - the social animal.

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