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The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty…

The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (original 1970; edition 2007)

by Peter Handke

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5321318,946 (3.06)24
Title:The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick
Authors:Peter Handke
Info:Farrar Straus Giroux (2007), Edition: Tra, Paperback, 133 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, Austrian Fiction

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The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke (1970)


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The novella Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter seems to be the most famous of Handke's early works, and it is one of those great titles that sticks in your mind whether or not you've actually read it. A bit like The loneliness of the long-distance runner and Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum: titles that seem to be micro-stories in their own right. But it's also probably the main reason why I hadn't read anything by Handke. On the strength of this one title, I had him mentally filed away as someone who writes about football, a subject that interests me about as much as watching paint dry.

It turns out that this is actually an elegant little philosophical investigation into the problem of language and meaning, with echoes of classic existentialist texts like L'étranger. The central character, Bloch, experiences a kind of disconnection in which the relationship of objects to words, of words to abstract meanings, of events and statements to each other, are all destabilised and put into question. Football does come into the story at a couple of points, most crucially in the closing scene, but it isn't really a football story. There's a lot of insistence on the detail of ordinary things: what the world looks like when you're a little bit disconnected from it, and Handke maintains a very flat, undemonstrative style, in which apparently minor things, like a coin falling out of a pocket, are treated with as much weight as extreme acts of violence. I think I would find this pretentious in a longer book, but in a short novella like this I found it an interestingly different way of looking at things. It obviously wasn't Handke's main aim to create a historical snapshot of life in a small community in southern Austria at the end of the sixties, but reading the book 45 years on, the degree of observation of everyday things that comes out of the peculiar narrative style is also very interesting from that point of view. ( )
1 vote thorold | Oct 13, 2014 |
Kafka's Trial begins with the protagonist's arrest and Camus's The Stranger with the death of the protagonist's mother; both events that the reader can trust with certainty.

Handke begins with the protagonist interpreting the actions of his fellow workers to mean he was fired and as a result, abandoning his employment. The protagonist's belief in his discharge motivates all of the novel but it is not at all clear that his interpretation was correct.

It's almost like a bizarre reversal of Bukowski's (later written) Post Office beginning that it all started as a mistake.

There are so many other good and insightful reviews of what follows; how it relates to post-war Europe and Austria in particular, the linguistic theories of the time and deconstructionism, that I am not going to re-write them but suggest that anyone interested in this novel look at those reviews.

Never forget that it begins with what may be a mistaken interpretation of other's actions. It examines the position, importance and meaning of persons disconnected. ( )
1 vote DinoReader | Aug 21, 2014 |
This slim book seems to draw readymade comparisons to Camus’s L’Étranger, which I think is a very poor way to approach Handke’s novella. While both texts deal with a man in an existential crisis and while there are murders, the similarities end there. Camus is concerned with the dissolution of a specific kind of French masculine identity; Handke’s subject matter here is analogous, but this is a text very rooted in Austrian anxieties in the late-1960s.

If anything, The Goalie... should draw comparisons to Kafka. Handke’s use of time, disorientation, the limits of language and discourse, and also the uncanny sense of reality mirroring dreams (and vice versa) are much more indebted to Kafka than to Camus.

Bloch is a difficult character to follow, and Handke enjoys confusing the reader to mimic Bloch’s own mental state. Some of the scenes are bafflingly nonsensical, while others play on puns and linguistic turns of phrases in unique ways. Here’s a short example of the latter:

“Gradually, when he said something now, he himself reappeared in what he said. The landlady asked him to stay for lunch. Bloch, who had planned to stay at her place anyway, refused.”

This is much more of a Kafkaesque refusal. An example of how lost in language Bloch is, but juxtaposed against a legalese in which he cannot share (thus emphasizing his isolation):

“The policemen, who made the usual remarks, nevertheless seemed to mean something entirely different by them; at least they purposely mispronounced phrases like ‘got to remember’ and ‘take off’ as ‘goats you remember’ and ‘take-off’ and, just as purposely, let their tongues slide over others, saying ‘whitewash?’ instead of ‘why watch?’ and ‘closed, or’ instead of ‘close door.’ ”

There’s something almost Lacanian in Handke’s playful and yet deranged handling of language and alienation in this witty and puzzling book. ( )
1 vote proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
Un ancien gardien de but se croit licencié de l'entreprise où il travaille et il quitte tout. Son errance finit par se transformer en vraie fuite après qu'il a étranglé une caissière de cinéma. Il va se livrer à de gratuites et dangereuses extravagances, jusqu'au jour où il assiste à un match de football au cours duquel le gardien de but réussit à arrêter un penalty : sa peur va alors être jugulée. Cet itinéraire intérieur, aux fausses allures de roman policier, permet à Peter Handke de démontrer sa maîtrise.
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
This review contains spoilers.

In this novel, “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick,” Peter Handke puts on full display the self-conscious experimentation for which he has become so well-known over the last four decades. This is Handke’s third novel (originally published in Germany in 1970), and his first to be translated into English in 1972. Because of its length – only 130 pages – I would suggest this as a good starting place for those who think they might be interested in the voice of Handke’s early fiction.

While the plot is perhaps not the most important aspect of the book, a précis is appropriate. Bloch, a construction worker, is laid off in the first sentence of the book. In a kind of heightened euphoria, Bloch checks into a hotel with only a suitcase, occasionally leaving to visit the cinema. He notices a young woman there, and spends the night with her. For some reason, or perhaps for no reason at all, Bloch murders her in her apartment. Emotion, motive, and fury are all completely excised from the tone of the novel, even in relation to this act. The reader never learns if Bloch is exhilarated or ashamed or scared of being caught. Shortly afterwards, he leaves for a small town on the Austrian border where still more events occur that should faze him, but they never seem to. The last few pages shed light on the meaning of the title is a way that is simply too good to divulge here.

Handke uses some brilliant social critique, especially on the subjects of consumerism and the meaningless of small talk shared with strangers. At one point, he is sitting in a café with two young women. “We buy all our dressed ready-made,” one tells him. “We do each other’s hair.” “In the summer it’s usually getting light by the time we finally get home.” “I prefer the slow dances.” “On the trip home we don’t joke around as much anymore, then we forget about talking.” Handke deftly communicates the crushing smallness of people. Another time, Bloch compulsively asks what everything is worth, including the furniture in his hotel room, as if fascinated and compelled by the idea that money could be the sole metric of worth. To borrow the argot of Tonnies, a sense of decadence – the fall from a traditional Gemeinschaft to a post-industrial Gesellschaft suffuses the novel, wherein old ways of communicating, emoting, and going about our day-to-day lives have been radically reconfigured. While I don’t read German, I have the feeling that the translator, Michael Roloff, had a big part in achieving these effects, too.

The most engaging part of the novel, at least for me, was its experimental style. Of course, depending on personal preferences, some might find it the most frustrating. Handke writes in flat, declarative, staccato sentences, which has the odd effect of spreading Bloch’s emotional numbness to even the reader. The novel focuses in on language to show its strengths, but also its glaring flaws. You get the feeling that Handke has quarried the words for his novella over a period of months or years, never with the naïve assumption that they could ever be ready-made tools for our passive use. In doing so, he issues forth a thoroughly invigorating critique of language and language use. It was akin to reading Wittgenstein, had he written fiction.

All in all, it was not a wholly unpleasurable experience, even if it was more experimental than most fiction that I do read. However, I appreciated this novel more than I enjoyed it. Handke certainly does bring a lot to the table as far as questioning what fiction does, how it’s performed, and what it can do for us. If you like your fiction to delve into these questions, you might find this highly enjoyable. If not, and you haven’t read anything by him, you may want to read this anyway: it’s short, and Handke has often been called one of the greatest living writers in the German language. ( )
2 vote kant1066 | Oct 14, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Handke, Peterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bussink, GerritTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fontcuberta I Gel, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Janus, PetrTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roloff, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dem Monteur Josef Block, der früher ein bekannter Tormann gewesen war, wurde, als er sich am Vormittag zur Arbeit meldete, mitgeteilt, daß er entlassen sei.
"The men are shouting much too much," Bloch said. "A good game goes very quietly."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374531064, Paperback)

The first of Peter Handke's novels to be published  in English, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a true modern classic that "portrays the…breakdown of a murderer in ways that recall Camus's The Stranger"  (Richard Locke, The New York Times). The self-destruction of a soccer goalie turned construction worker who wanders aimlessly around a stifling Austrian border town after pursuing and then murdering, almost unthinkingly, a female movie cashier is mirrored by his use of direct, sometimes fractured prose that conveys "at its best a seamless blend of lyricism and horror seen in the runes of a disintegrating world" (Bill Marx, Boston Sunday Globe).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:51 -0400)

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