Die Fahrt im Einbaum oder Das Stück zum Film vom Krieg[The Journey in the Dugout Canoe, or The Piece about the Film about the War]
Unter Tränen fragend[Questioning Through Tears]
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
Abschied des Träumers vom Neunten Land[The Dreamer’s Farewell to the Ninth Country]
Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise[Summer Afterword to a Winter Journey]
Der Himmel über Berlin: Ein Filmbuch[released in America as “Wings of Desire”]
Noch einmal vom Neunten Land[One More Time from the Ninth Country]
One of the last German films to win an international following was Wim Wenders’s 1987 fantasy Wings of Desire, about an angel, played by Bruno Ganz, who longs to be mortal; he sees everything but feels nothing. The film is remarkable for its muted black-and-white images of West Berlin, which shows up on screen as a blank, almost abstract, cityscape (the Potsdamer Platz, then in the shadow of the wall, appears, memorably, as a vacant lot), and for its stern, incantatory dialogue.
Wings of Desire was co-written, we are told, by Wenders and the Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke; but the story and the effect of the images, like the dialogue, bear the mark of Handke, generally regarded at the time as the premier prose stylist in the German language, and one of post-war Europe’s most recognizable literary figures.
At the end of the film, Ganz’s angel finally gets his wish and becomes merely human—unlike Lucifer, he is redeemed by his fall, and the film is submerged in a haze of color. Handke has lately taken his own fall: he has put himself at the center of a resounding controversy by forsaking his gray world of detachment and longing to take up the cause of Serb nationalism. In two extended episodes over the last four years, he has browbeaten German- speaking Europe on a variety of related subjects with essays, interviews, scurrilous remarks, bizarre gestures; a major play, first performed last spring, called The Journey in the Dugout Canoe, or The Piece about the Film about the War; and, now, with a book about the war in Kosovo, called Questioning Through Tears. His conversion has left people confused, or enraged, or simply dispirited. Everything about Handke has become open to question, from his sincerity and his sanity to the scope of his vast, once highly praised, body of work.
Peter Handke lives near Paris; but he comes from Carinthia, in the south of Austria—one of Western Europe’s more remote and inward-looking regions (and, as it happens, Jörg Haider’s political base). He was born in 1942, when Austria was known as the Ostmark, a southeastern province of the Third Reich. His mother was an ethnic Slovene from a village called Griffen, north of the Drau River—called the Drava after it flows on into Slovenia and Croatia. The Drau has come to be an inner frontier in Austria, with Carinthia’s once-sizable Slovenian minority confined more or less to the villages and a few small towns between the river and the Slovenian border. Griffen itself went from being “Slovenian” to being “German” in the years after Handke’s birth. Both Handke’s father and his stepfather, who married his mother when she was pregnant with Handke, were German soldiers.
Carinthia is a dramatic, fragmented place, with high mountains and alpine lakes. Handke himself comes from a wide valley wedged between the mountains, and somehow remote from them. He grew up in Griffen and …