A Diary of a Bad Year as a book for a rainy summer

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J.M. Coetzees Diary of a Bad Year ist nach Waiting for the Barbarians das zweite Buch desselben Autors, das ich heuer lese. Ich lese nicht viel Belletristik. Aber als ich das erste Kapitel zu lesen anfing, war das Essayistik. Ich hatte ein Essay von Coetzee über das Ineinandergreifen der britischen Wahrnehmung indigener Afrikaner und alter Griechen anfang des 20. Jhs. gelesen und stimmig gefunden – ursprünglich einen Vortrag bei der Siemens-Stiftung in München-Nymphenburg. Also las ich im Diary weiter, um festzustellen, dass die Seiten des Buches sich nach und nach trennen: oben ein politischer Essay des Hauptcharakters, in der Mitte dessen Bericht von der Begegnung mit Anya, unten Anyas Bericht von der Begegnung mit dem Autor – el Señor.

  • Plötzlich erlebe ich mich als jemanden, der den Essay und Hobbes und Machiavelli links liegen lässt und dessen Augen stattdessen auf die rechte Seite ab deren Mitte wandern.
  • In den schönen Büchern geht es nie direkt um die großen Ideen, sondern um irgendeine Anya und irgendeinen Señor.

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    J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year is after Waiting for the Barbarians the second book of the same author which I read this year. Normally, I don’t read novels. But when I started reading the first chapter of this one, it was an essay.

    Another essay by Coetzee about the merged image of African warriors and Ancient Greeks in the British perception of the early 20th century, initially a lecture he had given at the Siemens Foundation in Munich, I read and enjoyed many years ago. So I continued reading in the Diary to realise soon that the pages of the book are divided into an essay on politics supposed to be written by a grey-haired intellectual on the top of every page, said intellectual’s story about his encounter with a floozie called Anya in the middle of every page, finally – bottom – Anya’s account on the author or, as she calls him: el señor.

  • Suddenly I catch myself forgetting the essay and Hobbes and Machiavelli, my eyes strolling on the bottom part of the next page.
  • This is OK. Literature addresses big ideas via some Anya and some señor.

    Pierre Loti le deuxième

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    “Peter” heißen beide, der alte Orient- und der neue Balkanenthusiast. Pierre Lotis Erfolg vor hundert Jahren zog schlimmstennfalls Nazim Hikmets Beschimpfung nach sich, der Scharlatan könne doch gar nicht wissen, was der Orient sei. Demgegenüber wird heute Peter Handkes Nobelpreis mit dem Völkermord in Verbindung gebracht.

    Journalisten-Bissigkeit kommt wohl Handke nicht zeitgeistbedingt zuteil. Denn, um bei Serbien zu bleiben: Der andere große literarische Zeitgenosse des Landes, Milorad Pavić, durfte ohne Vorwürfe Oriententhusiast sowie ab 1991 Mitglied der Serbischen Akademie sein.

    Der Unterschied? Pavić war ja Belgrader. Handke jedoch lebt in Paris. Daher muss erst der Journalist bestimmen, ob er serbische Nudeln und serbische Wälder zu Kriegszeiten verklärt betrachten durfte.

    Das nachfolgende Foto und die Assoziation Handke-Loti-Pavić gab mir Belgrad am 10. Oktober des ausgehenden Jahres, dem Tag der Ankündigung der Nobelpreisvergabe. Für mehr persönliche Hintergründe soll sich der Leser den nachfolgenden englischen Text antun.

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    Hungry and tired and denied a table in Vuk we strolled in the Knez Mihajlova when I thought of Proleće. You can always find a table there! It was rather too late in the evening of October 10, 2019. Earlier, in the afternoon, still in Greece but near the state borders, the car radio had said that Peter Handke was one of this year’s Nobel prize laureates. Now, despite hunger and darkness, I noticed the announcement of a just finished literary evening “90 years after the birth and 10 after the death” of Serbia’s other great novelist, Milorad Pavić. Wife and children were in a hurry “Where is your plan B? We’re hungry!” I thought I was ridiculous thinking that Handke would have been celebrated in Belgrade in the very evening of the announcement from Stockholm.

    Proleće had a table alright…

    I do believe that Handke is a great author of Serbia although he has never written literary texts in Serbocroatian, a language in which, nevertheless, he is fluent. What I also believe is that he loved Yugoslavia in a rather postmodern way. But he who has not sinned cast the first stone. To me too, about the same time, Yugoslav market places, Yugoslav bookstores, Yugoslav newspapers appeared as the Southeast the way it once was: full of pretentious seriousness in the literary supplement, full of self-irony in the fiction department, full of fun beside the vegetables where a gypsy band played one of the innumerable versions of “Come and make me yours” full of major seconds and melismas.

    Exoticism has very rarely been held to be big art. But I’m not an artist, so I wouldn’t care if I were attributed bad taste. Not much anyway. Paul Gauguin was happy to see his exoticism winning the Parisian public over. Pierre Loti’s fame, Gauguin’s first inspiration to visit Tahiti, melted however rapidly. In the 20s, the Turkish poet and socialist Nazim Hikmet was wondering what an imposter it takes to glorify poverty, prejudice and superstition in the name of picturesque, giving his poem the title “Pierre Loti”.

    One century after the Pierre and the Paul of Tahitian exoticism, Peter Handke focused on a picturesque much closer. It was – to put it sarcastically – an emerging picturesque. To quote a back then famous movie: Lepa sela lepo gore: nice villages burn nicely.

    Handke never employed sarcasm in his two travel journals in Serbia and Bosnia. At most, he quoted it: “May your house be shown on CNN!” as a curse between quarrelling neighbours for example (CNN was showing much burned down property in those days). Handke never wrote war propaganda – unless it is war propaganda to adore the “different yellowness” of pasta purchased from a Serbian market. In Handke’s work there is nothing that could connect his Nobel prize with genocide. But this is exactly what is constantly repeated in the two last months.

    To return to Milorad Pavić, 10 years after his death and 90 etc: also he styled a postmodern picturesque. And – what was more dubious in Milošević’s Serbia – he became a member of the Serbian Academy. In 1991! No complaints here!

    The difference is probably that Pavić lived in Belgrade. Someone like him had the right to love and hate whoever he liked. Handke however lives in Paris. Consequently it is the journalism that has to decide if it was OK to be Yugophile…