Category Archives: Peter Handke

More than the sum of its parts

I mentioned last time a parallel between two disparate things which seemed to me more than a coincidence. One was an example which Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka used to articulate his idea of the behavioural (as opposed to geographical) environment. The other was a fairly representative passage I remembered from when we were performing Peter Handke’s The Ride Across Lake Constance.

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Of chicks and cigar boxes

I was talking last time about the Lake Constance legend, Gestalt psychology, optical illusions, and the Jastrow Illusion in particular.

Most people see the lower arch as bigger than the upper one.

But apparently it’s not just people.

Jastrow illusion
Jastrow illusion
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Plain to See

A few weeks ago I wrote about Peter Handke’s play The Ride across Lake Constance, and the legend it got its title from.

Serendipitously I came across another reference to this legend in a book by Kurt Koffka, one of the founders of Gestalt psychology. In The Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935) he uses it to distinguish between what he calls the ‘geographical environment’ and the ‘behavioural environment’:

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A Nazi drama in seven characters: Act 3

We looked last time at one ‘character’ from Peter Handke‘s The Ride Across Lake Constance who escaped the Nazi regime and one who didn’t manage to.

To complete the seven we now look at an Austrian actor who portrayed Nazis from the safety of Hollywood, and two twins who were born in Nazi Germany.

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A Nazi drama in seven characters: Act 1

We mentioned last time that in Peter Handke‘s The Ride Across Lake Constance the actors do not play characters as such. Instead they ‘are and play themselves at one and the same time’.

To avoid calling them ‘Actor A’, ‘Actor B’ and so on in the published text Handke names the parts after well-known actors. The dramatis personae therefore reads like a who’s who (or wer ist wer?) of 20th Century Germanic cinema, with all that that entails:

Emil Jannings
Heinrich George
Elisabeth Bergner
Henny Porten
Erich von Stroheim
Alice and Ellen Kessler

More on the first two below.

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Ride around Lake Constance

Our subject last time was the legend of the ride across Lake Constance. But why did Peter Handke name his play after it?

Not an easy question, as in many respects the play seems incomprehensible. I remember being quite bewildered when we performed it. Any attempt to summarise the plot hits an immediate obstacle in that there is hardly any plot to summarise.

Instead you get occasional patches of apparent clarity which, just as in a dream, seem to change into something entirely different, with an entirely different meaning. Sorry – apparent meaning.

Peter Handke
Peter Handke in 2006
(Wild + Team Agentur – UNI Salzburg)
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On thin ice

I was talking last time about The Ride Across Lake Constance by Peter Handke. Lake Constance, or der Bodensee, sits between Germany, Switzerland and Austria. But the play itself gets its title from a South German legend about a horseman who sets out to ride to a village on the shore of the lake. It is winter, and it is snowing.

Lake Constance der Bodensee
Map of Lake Constance (der Bodensee)
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Ride across Lake Constance

45 years ago I was in a play called The Ride Across Lake Constance. We put it on at a little fringe theatre club in Regents Park Road, Primrose Hill, called The Howff. ‘Howff’ is a Scottish word for meeting place or haunt. The building seems to be a wine shop now, so I guess it could still qualify as a howff of sorts. But to give you an idea of what it was like in the early 1970s, a review in the New Musical Express of a Sandy Denny gig the previous year talked of ‘the customary Howff fringe-theatre crowd who usually yap in cultured Hampstead tones’.

Our production was done on a shoestring, as you can see from the poster:

Peter Handke Ride Across Lake Constance
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