Skip to content



In Repetition, Handke allows the peculiar light which illuminates the space under a leafy canopy or a tent canvas to glisten between words, placed here with astounding caution and precision; in doing so, he  succeeds in making the text into a sort of refuge amid the arid lands which, even in the culture industry, grow larger day by day.

W.G. Sebald’s essay Across the Border: Peter Handke’s Repetition has just been translated for the first time into English and is now posted as a downloadable PDF over at thelastbooks.  The essay, on Handke’s 1986 book Die Wiederholung, was originally published in Sebald’s 1991 anthology of literary essays Unheimliche Heimat under the title Jenseits der Grenze.  This translation of Sebald’s essay is by Nathaniel Davis and is apparently to be included in a forthcoming reissue of Ralph Manheim’s  1989 translation of Handke’s book, which is currently out-of-print. As a bonus, thelastbooks also includes a PDF of Gabriel Josipovici’s review of Repetition.  Josipovici called the book “one of the most moving evocations I have ever read of what it means to be alive, to walk upon this earth.”

I have not read Repetition, so I can’t say much about Sebald’s commentary on Repetition, but Stephen Mitchelmore calls it a “remarkable essay, and he links to a post he wrote several years ago on three of Handke’s books, including this one. I also recommend taking a look at Lars Iyers lengthy essay on Repetition at Ready Steady Book.

The novel meant much to Sebald, whose essay, somewhat uncharacteristically for him, contains unrestrained praise for what Handke achieved in this book.

What I want to do now is not to discuss the particularities of this distancing from Peter Handke – nor do I want to be tempted by the considerable task of sketching the psychology and sociology of the parasitic species that takes literature as its host; instead, I simply want to experimentally process a few things regarding the book Repetition, which upon first reading in 1986 made a great and, as I have since learned, lasting impression on me.

And here’s a nice comment by Sebald on the mysterious nature of the act of writing:

I don’t know if the forced relation between hard drudgery and airy magic, particularly significant for the literary art, has ever been more beautifully documented than in the pages of Repetition describing the roadmender and signpainter.

Sebald wrote about Handke several times: first in an essay that appeared in Literatur und Kritik in 1975 and which is translated in Campo Santo as Strangeness, Integration, and Crisis: On Peter Handke’s Play Kaspar; and again in his 1985 anthology Die Beschreibung des Unglücks: Zur österreichischen Literatur von Stifter bis Handke, where he reprinted an essay on Handke originally published in 1983. He writes at some length about The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick in the latter essay, which is, unfortunately, not translated into English yet.  I’ve done several posts about Handke over the years.

Jo Catlings catalog of Sebald’s library, published in Saturn’s Moons, demonstrates how much Sebald admired Handke; the catalog lists nineteen books by Handke and one book about him.  Only a few German-language authors had more books in Sebald’s library, notably Goethe and Thomas Bernhard.

For yet another look at Handke’s book, head over to the great site Handke Online where there is an essay about Handke’s notebooks for Die Wiederholung, along with images of the notebooks.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love this post! I have written an essay on Sebald’s reading of Repetition i(‘”Die irdische Erfüllung”: Peter Handke’s Poetic Landscapes and W. G. Sebald’s Metaphysics of History in W. G. Sebald’s work’, in: W. G. Sebald and the Writing of History, eds Anne Fuchs, Jonathan Long (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007), pp. 179-197), and there’s a section on Sebald’s passion for Handke in my forthcoming book. I’m so glad that Sebald brought me to Repetition – it is an amazing, beautiful, satisfying text.

    March 9, 2013
    • Helen, Thanks for the reminder of your essay in the 2007 anthology!  (I’m not sure how I overlooked Repetition.  I’ve read about 3/4 of Handke’s books, but this one slipped through the cracks.  However, I just downloaded it to my Kindle.)  I can’t wait for your book to be published. – Terry



      March 9, 2013
      • Thanks so much! I’m going through chapter 3 of the proofs this morning…

        March 10, 2013
  2. schlienz #

    Sebald’s relationship to, and reading of Handke, has been explored in an excellent essay by Neil Christian Pages, written already over five years ago and included in a special issue of MODERN AUSTRIAN LITERATURE on “Sebald and Austrian Literature” (Vol 40, issue 4, December 2007). The essay is titled, “Sebald, Handke, and the Pathological Vision.”

    March 9, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on Helen Finch and commented:
    Terry Pitts has written a wonderful post on Sebald’s essay ‘Across the Border: Peter Handke’s Repetition’, which is available as a download in English for the first time. I wrote an essay on this, ”Die irdische Erfüllung”: Peter Handke’s Poetic Landscapes and W. G. Sebald’s Metaphysics of History in W. G. Sebald’s work’, in: W. G. Sebald and the Writing of History, eds Anne Fuchs, Jonathan Long (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007), pp. 179-197. (You can preview it on Google Books here.) Sebald’s Bachelors has a section on homoeroticism in this essay, too… watch this space for more details…

    March 10, 2013
    • Hi Helen; can’t wait for your book:0;I am So going to buy it lol; a chapter on Sebald’s homoeroticism in the essay you mention, hey? Well, we have got this absolutely cricual aspect of Sebald’s writing recognized at last, thanks to Santner, yourself and me(with the one or two other fairly cursory mentions).I think Sebald would SO have approved of the re-claiming of this double marginalisation that has taken place by most critics ignoring this intrinsically important content around bachelors, homosociality and, sometimes, OVERT, homosexuality(including impled homoeroticism).I have the feeling the Sebald world of academics and readres are ready for it!I have had a lot of “hits” on my blog on this constellation of subjects in relation to Sebald for about 2 years now.And thanks to Terry for flagging up this subject sometimes, particuarly as there is institutionalised homophobia/heterosexism in some of academia!Steve Benson

      March 10, 2013
      • Thanks so much for your support for this project, Steve! I’m really touched and delighted that Sebald’s Bachelors has an enthusiastic reader beyond the walls of the academy. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

        March 11, 2013
      • No worries, Helen:) it is a pleasure!i am full of joy that, like i said, this absolutely intrinsic aspect of Sebald’s work is being seen at last, as you say by academics and readers outside that world:)Take care, keep us informed of publication date!xx Steve Benson

        March 11, 2013
  4. Hi Terry,
    I believe that in Catling’s catalog of Sebald’s library are more works by Kafka than by Bernhard and Goethe but I could be wrong. I will go back and count them!

    March 10, 2013
    • Cheri, I’m sure you are right. My comment was based on a very quick scan of Catling’s catalog, not a close analysis. – Terry


      March 11, 2013
  5. mikerol #

    which is part of the
    has a page devoted to THE REPETITION . Fellow Handke translators Scott Abbott and Zarko Radacovich have a mutual text inspired by THE REPETITION coming out with Punctum Books, Brooklyn. see Scott’s
    for the links.

    March 22, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: