I was never a fan of Handke’s literature, which is why I was not at all moved by the announcement by the Nobel committee. After their decision to give the prize to Bob Dylan and his reaction to it, after their year off due to the sex scandal within the institution, it’s getting harder to be moved by anything they do. I liked their decision to award the prize to Olga Tokarczuk better, because I at least plan to keep reading her books.
Handke’s literary career and intellectual de-evolution came down to the unquenchable desire to use the breakup of Yugoslavia to facilitate one’s own rise to glory, just like the French authors of his generation – Bernard-Henri Lévy, who chose Bosnia, and Alain Finkielkraut, who chose Croatia: Handke was left with Serbia. Writers’ political errors and ethical blunders are not paramount to their literary work. Like many others, I am guilty of being ready to defend dissidents on the basis of the separation of a writer and his work. At least the war in Yugoslavia introduced a certain order to the issue: yes, the writer is responsible for his work, and yes, words can kill. The same applies to Handke.
Maybe none of that matters, but it does to me. What remains important and certainly quite objective is Handke’s statement about the happiness the Serbs must feel upon hearing the news of his award. This statement should instead provoke sorrow, as it speaks poorly of Handke’s understanding of things and, more directly, of his literature. In one stupid stroke, Handke erases all the Serbs who do not fit with his Milosevic-like imagined image. For him, they don’t exist at all. For me, this speaks about the flatulence of the colonizer, the self-proclaimed saint of the small nation, who opposes the great powers and defends the little criminal and his helpers, taking them under his wing. Handke’s praise of the “courage” of the Swedish Academy for daring to choose him for this award is also evidence of a serious delusion.
The fact that he has reduced the Serbian nation to Milosevic’s world and failed to notice anything else disqualifies Handke as a writer and an intellectual. This is not a question of ideas or political sympathy, but of a serious lack of observation, knowledge, sensibility, and impulse to love the oppressed and victims more than tyrants and abusers: in short, the literary capacities that are important to writers today and to their work. The fact that Hadke has failed to notice anything but the brutal face of the authorities and that he has equated it with the people is a serious offense against Serbia. Being critical must be a trait of anyone who feels the need to fall in love with a collective, especially an ethnic one.
And what good did it do for Olga Tokarczuk to praise Handke?
Translated by Marijana Simic