REPETITION by Peter Handke


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Easily Handke's strangest book--forbidding, dry, arcane. Filip Kobal, a young Austrian of Slovenian descent, goes off in 1960 on a quest--for some sense of the geography, the language, the gestalt that had once surrounded his brother Gregor, missing since the war after joining the partisans in Yugoslavia. Filip's journey through Yugoslavia is more mythic than touristy, a search for the epiphenomenal and, especially, for the linguistic sufficiencies that distinguish one place from another. Brother Gregor was an amateur etymologist, and Filip's great first discovery is that the unaccountably specific phrases and terms of any given language make for a freedom and boldness never known to him before: ""I felt free from my addiction to the gruesome or even to the tragic and found in the contemplation of names a pattern in the world, a plan, which transformed country people and a village house into world people and a big-city house. Every word a world circle!"" More narratively interesting is what the title refers to: Filip's growing apprehension, by traveling through strangeness, that ""the blind windows and empty cow paths strike me as the hallmarks of a kingdom of recurrence, where a locomotive whistle can become equally well the cry of a pigeon or the shriek of an Indian."" This book may be an attempt by Handke to strangle vagueness and abstraction in his work by wedding it to the at times even absurdly specific. Yet readers will be mostly mystified by this cold, incantatory tale.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1988
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux