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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Bordering on Names: Strategies of Mapping in the Prose of Terézia Mora and Peter Handke

  • Author(s): Buchholz, Paul
  • et al.

The contemporary prose works of Peter Handke and Terézia Mora are marked by a common formal feature: the strategy of circumlocution, whereby narrative intrigue is fueled by the continual and nimble avoidance of any proper place-names. Their commitment to this aesthetic strategy of non-naming can be linked to a literary tradition of late modernism by way of the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann, who saw utopian potential in the observance of “bordering” on words and lands, but not overstepping their edges. Handke and Mora, writing under the influence of Bachmann, only ever “border” on naming places, and are thus able to create nuanced, estranged narratives of inhabited space and subjectivity, which continually point towards the (perpetually absent) linguistic practices that would attach the literary work to a particular (cultural, national, linguistic) locality. For these authors, the hopeful potential that Bachmann saw in “bordering” attains a critical capacity. Handke and Mora write novels that worry about how a literary work––like the nation-state––could become an exclusionary filter of life, persons, and experience. This worry becomes a substantial aspect of their works, and is evinced by a creative refusal to define their narrative realities with a conventionally operating rigid designator.

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