Once Again for Thucydides
In ONCE AGAIN FOR THUCYDIDES Peter Handke, a major post-modern German-language writer, describes a series of ordinary events which he experiences on journeys through Switzerland, the former Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, and Japan between March, 1987, and January, 1990. In these essays Handke examines commonplace events in the natural world like melting snow in springtime, flocks of pigeons, a lightning storm, and the devastation resulting from a forest fire. He also observes everyday features of the human world, like a shoeshine man’s simple routine, the boarding of a ferry, and a religious procession.
Under Handke’s careful examination ordinary events and people become the vehicle for literary and artistic tour de force and philosophical reflection. The descriptions are more than diary entries. They are epopees or little epics in which everyday events like the evening flight of swallows and bats and the variety of hats worn by an urban crowd take on cosmic proportions. At the same time, these realistic descriptions become works of art in which life and art are blended and the ordinary becomes extraordinary and timeless. Handke’s narrator then symbolizes the individual’s quest for personal meaning and connection with other people and the surrounding world.
An ash tree in a public park in Munich illustrates this interconnection. The tree which Handke sees before his eyes is his link with memories, with the past. It also links the narrator to living things like lichen and butterflies in the park and to the rest of humankind, including the dead. Handke’s description of the ash tree thus takes on epic and artistic characteristics which enable him to move beyond the description of specific events and places to a vision of a world of relationships which transcend time and space.
Sources for Further Study
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, November 22, 1998, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, August 3, 1998, p. 76.