Once Again for Thucydides

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Editorial Reviews

S. Kauffmann
Handke is the most important new writer on the international scene since Beckett. -- The Saturday Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like his recent novel, My Year in the No-Man's-Bay, this series of intimately described observations certainly doesn't qualify as fiction by most standards of measure. In neither work is Handke very concerned with character or plot in the usual sense. Each of these simple, elegant pieces very specifically identifies date and place, as in a travelogue, with the first-person narrator (often referring to himself in detached third-person terms such as "the observer") journeying to locations as distant as the Balkans or Japan. In keeping with Handke's ethic of clean, scrupulous description, "The Shoeshine Man of Split" celebrates the "saint of small measures" who performs perfectly the small act of shining a pair of shoes. The stories grow increasingly personal as the collection progresses, as in the strongest piece, "The Short Fable of the Ash Tree in Munich," which is the narrator's minute diary of a tree's transformation; even here, however, a recognizably fictional narrator never emerges. Handke's observations are well served by the supple English prose of translator Lewis. Although this small book's avoidance of conventional drama makes it clear that its intended audience is a small one, Handke offers quiet pleasures, delivered in precise, carefully honed language that eschews metaphor in favor of detailed acts of perception.
Liam Callanan
. . .[A]n eclectic colleciton of "micro-epics" from Handke's travels. . . .Though the answers he suggests require strenuous squinting to discern, his effort alone rescues the book from fussy preciosity. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811217767
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Pages: 100
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.24 (d)

Table of Contents

For Thucydides 1
The Pigeons of Pazin 5
The Sheet-Lightning Epopee or Once Again for Thucydides 11
The Shoeshine Man of Split 15
Epopee of Loading a Cargo Ship 21
The Tale of Hats in Skopje 25
Calling the Escaped Parakeet in Patras, Peloponnesia, on
December 20, 1987 29
Several Incidents of Snowfall in Japan 33
Last Pictures? 39
The Glowworm Epopee 43
Brazzano Thunder Blues 47
Again a Story of Melting 51
The Hour Between Swallows and Bats 55
Two Days Facing the Cloud-Kitchen Mountain 59
Attempt to Exorcise One Story with Another 65
The Short Fable of the Ash Tree in Munich 69
Epopee of the Disappearing Paths or Another Lesson of Mont
Sainte-Victoire 83
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First Chapter

Chapter One


    On March 23, 1987, a leaf in the evergreen ivy climbing the side of a house on the Felsenberg seemed wilted. When a man's shadow fell on the leaf, it rose up, spreading wings infinitely yellower underneath--the strongest color seen in a long time. Then, a second brimstone butterfly flew around the corner of the house, a twitching shadow on the wall. The butterflies alit, revealing a pair of dark spots on their veined, lemon-yellow wings, one dot above the other; their heads retained something of their former caterpillar states. Throughout the winter they had hung unnoticed in the bushes, rolled up like cigarettes. Next to one of the butterflies, a first bee landed suddenly. Again, as the butterfly flew off, its underwings emitted their deep shine into the world, forcing one's glance back into a look around. This was after the ten o'clock news on the radio. The sun grew warmer, and both butterflies disappeared. By midday, deep in the front garden, the granular snow of the firn began to stir. The grains of snow began to topple as if of their own will. They fell away, rolling to the side, and grew more diaphanous and transparent with each glance. Across the entire blanket of snow and throughout the garden there was a constant, endless jolting, lurching, beginning-to-flow, trickling, and--if one brought one's ear close--a rustling. It was the snow melting. Some of the grains settled on the incline, gleaming under the warm sun like the concave mirrors of tiny cosmic telescopes. At the same time, the blanket of snow sagged visibly, and between the several blades of new grass piercing it. The rocket of a first crocus flashes up, still half-shrouded in leaves, the deep blue tip aimed towards the equally blue outer space. Seen through a magnifying glass, the crystallized firn was full of soot. These were the events of the morning of March 23, 1987.

Chapter Two


    I spent the night of the 22nd to the 23rd of August, 1987, in the central Istrian town of Pazin, in a hotel on the edge of a rocky precipice, a so-called "sink-hole," at the foot of which, far below, Dante is said to have entered into the Inferno. Someone was still playing the accordion after midnight, and a small owl, so timid it seemed tame, hooted continuously in the dark pines along the sink-hole's rim. Then in the darkest night, a rooster crowed, reminding me of the enormous bumble-bee I had seen the day before, stirring up pale bluebells. I remembered the cicada in an apple tree and St. Martin on a fresco in Beram's solitary church. I had always been offended by this saint who cut his robe in half, but now, for the first time, I began to understand him. Towering above the poor, naked beggar who smiles like a half-wit, St. Martin divided his cloak and, reaching down from his horse, draped it around the man's shoulders. The enormous saint looks down sorrowfully upon such "conditions."

    The next day in Pazin was a Sunday. Tides of silence washed over the city so that the gurgling of pigeons reigned high up in the trees, especially in the cedars. At the bottom of another sink-hole (the area is known for these vertical pits), I came upon dead trees standing in a lake covered with pea-green algae. Later, at the train station, more than a few of the young Yugoslavian rices appeared disfigured, if only because of the gaps between their teeth, and I thought of the petrifying, Medusa-like gaze which I myself, already exposed, sometimes used unconsciously or even against my will, in order to expose others. I knew I had to overcome this habit completely, to breathe it away, to breathe it out of myself--or, rather, to veil it so that I could perceive things even more clearly. (So I reflected under the chestnut trees outside the Pazin station, remembering the beautiful night in the hotel and the first rays of sun on the window frame.) Now the noise--yes, noise--of the pigeons high in the trees, like the sound of conversations below, became decisive, urgent, as if up in the treetops they believed themselves unique. From the trees dropped a snowfall of small white feathers. With a hoarse caw, one of the pigeons flew down and minced around the station square before fluttering majestically straight back up into the leaves, its feathers whispering like a shaken sack of straw. The pigeons were very light in color with a dark, emblematic stripe on their tailfeathers. Their dainty heads were even a shade lighter. They were convinced they were unique. Where were Pazin's sparrows? I watched a circle of them whirl up from the dust--a seventh-day creation. Nearby, a pigeon, with a bobbing head and a piece of straw in its beak, left the sparrows' realm suddenly and was soon just a shadow in the sunny foliage. Large and small flies, previously unnoticed on the sticky oil-cloth in the station buffet, were lapping up spilled drops.

    Were those flocks of birds in the crannies of the sink-hole walls also pigeons, illuminating its depths with their bright wings? Similarly, a single white butterfly's wobbling search for its mate intensified the green darkness under the chestnut trees. Meanwhile, waiting passengers (who had become quite numerous) stood around under the pigeons' din like a collection of unnecessary things.

    So I have decided to skip my train and to stay in Pazin with Sunday's pigeons. Then occurred the first of that day's so typically Yugoslavian coincidences: I saw a child with a white eye-patch--the train to Pula has arrived--just as, simili modo, last night I saw a slender young girl wearing a bright frayed bandage on her knee, a bandage that seemed almost a decoration because of its fringes and the charming way the girl straightened her knee. (The train to Pula has departed.) And I also noticed the station's pillars, here in Pazin, slender, round and fluted in the old Austrian style. A small flag pole stuck out of the cornice under the enormous main capital. The sparrows had become barely visible, mere whistling shadows over the asphalt. The train to Dirska pulled in, the one I had previously planned on taking. Passengers scrambled to the train's doors despite its having stopped. Soon, this train too had gone, leaving behind only one woman in a black dress with a white aster on her purse. The pigeons, momentarily quiet, now hesitantly began, one at a time, to echo the train's whistle. I took my time, of which I had plenty.

    Many of Pazin's houses still bear traces of the original gables. The former trapezoids of these Istrian houses--squares topped with triangles--have been expanded and filled in to form rectangles. Meanwhile, the pigeons with their dark, guttural cooing completely blanketed the entire town; and the many holes in the railroad worker's blue shirt turned out merely to be groups of flies, which were doubtless squatting all over my back as well; wasps, burrowing in the garbage, scared off whirls of the flies. My head ached from seeing and hearing so much. One pigeon, just landed, let its dark pinions hang down from the lighter colored feathers of one wing as it circled and pecked, and then let the pinions hang from the other wing, looking like some kind of amphibious vehicle--then it hopped down into the gutter. The back of its neck gleamed quite brightly as it flew up into the station's canopy. Nothing airier than the wafting breezes, I thought. And then, in the noonday stillness, all the roosters in this small town began to crow at once. A cat slunk into the station square, and although small, began stalking the flighty birds like a lion. In the alley leading down to the sink-hole was a rooster with a glowworm in its beak. I freed the glowworm which sat stunned a while before finally raising its head. In a garden near the hole, a turkey in a wire cage raised its head in the same way. Then, finally, near the sea on this Sunday evening, a palm frond shuddered like a thousand birds.

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