Academic journal article The Comparatist

Peter Handke's Reception of Miguel De Cervantes's Don Quixote of la Mancha (1605) in der Bildverlust: Oder Durch Die Sierra De Gredos (the Loss of Image or through the Sierra De Gredos) (2002)

Academic journal article The Comparatist

Peter Handke's Reception of Miguel De Cervantes's Don Quixote of la Mancha (1605) in der Bildverlust: Oder Durch Die Sierra De Gredos (the Loss of Image or through the Sierra De Gredos) (2002)

Article excerpt

Peter Handke's novel Der Bildverlust: oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos--his "magnus opus, not just in terms of length, but equally in terms of spiritual scope and aesthetic innovation" (Skwara 77)--is to date the latest of literary texts by Austrian writers that creatively refer to Cervantes's Don Quixote of La Mancha. (1) The third of the novel's three epigraphs is one of the many quotations from Miguel de Cervantes's work that are sprinkled throughout Handke's novel: "Aber vielleicht haben die Ritterschaft und die Verzauberungen heutzutage andere Wege zu nehmen als bei den alten" ["But perhaps knighthood and enchantments nowadays must take paths different from those of the ancients" (Winston, 5; all translations of Handke will be taken from this edition)]. The theme in Der Bildverlust is our contemporary cultural crisis caused by a flood of media images, which, according to the narrator, make false assumptions taken for facts. But, truth and veracity, the narrator claims, must also take into account the personal and emotive. Since Quixote also fights in defense of his personal view of the world, it is no surprise that Cervantes's novel attracts Handke. This study will examine both intertextual references to Cervantes's text and structural similarities between Handke's and Cervantes's novels.

The epigraph quoted above indicates that Handke's novel probably will tell a modern version of the adventure-packed old tale of knight-errantry and enchantments. Indeed, the 750-page text recounts an adventure story. Spooky places are visited, travelers (some of them manifesting bizarre psychological traumas) narrate their personal stories over a meal, a mythic people is found whose ways are different, and, as it also happens in Don Quixote of La Mancha, possessions are lost, and things once lost are suddenly found. To make sure we don't misunderstand the literary genre, the female protagonist is called "die Aventurera" (750) ["the adventurera" (466)] and we find sentences such as the following: "Das aus so vielen Abenteuergeschichten bekannte Zittern im nachhinein kam uber sie. Aber war das nicht andererseits der Beweis fur ein richtiges Abenteuer?" (742) ["The retroactive trembling familiar from so many adventure stories came over her. But wasn't this, on the other hand, the unmistakable sign of a proper adventure?" (461)]. Most importantly, like Cervantes's Don Quixote, Handke's Der Bildverlust is an adventure novel about a quest, not the one for knight-errantry that is directed towards courtly love, but, as has been mentioned, a vision quest. Due to this quest for the right vision and the obsession with which it is pursued, Klaus Kastberger claims about Handke's novel: "Das Ganze der Neuzeit steckt in diesem Buch" (173) [The whole of modernity is contained in this book].

To give a short plot summary, the protagonist, an unnamed German woman, a banker, very successful in her profession, leaves her unspecified port city in Northwestern Europe to cross a part of Spain by car, bus, and on foot. There, she intends to accomplish a business deal with a writer who lives in the Castilian plains of Cervantes's La Mancha. In return for paying him a fee and taking care of his financial affairs, she wants him to write her biography. On the challenging journey through the mountains, there are "giants" she has to battle with; they are not windmill vanes as in Don Quixote, but rather media images which have the power to attack the protagonist from within. The story ends with a dialogue between the woman and the writer about the horrible clash between our subjective vision of the world and its media images.

Besides being an adventure novel about a quest, the text is also a lengthy pamphlet about our contemporary cultural crisis. According to Handke, who has expressed his concern about this crisis for some time, especially since his outrage about the generalized media coverage on the Yugoslav wars (1991-1995), (2) the flood of media images that claim to be a vehicle of truth, but are not, causes this crisis. …

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