Und ich wußte dabei; Keine schöneren Augen auf der Welt als die Augen meines Begehrens.—Das Spiel vom Fragen (95)
In Handke's Novel Kindergeschichte a traveler, alone in a train station, observes how all the children have eyes for everyone there. Like the traveller, the children seem both to miss and to expect something and hence search for the "returned gaze" ("Antwortblick" ). The lone passenger can depend on being helpfully noticed by them. In commentary on Die linkshändige Frau Handke considers a scenario that likewise takes place in the public domain: he finds himself unable to appreciate the dignity of people he espies on train platforms, in cafés, and in airports. But he is then shocked when he, also isolated in urban time and space, perceives himself in them. It is this sudden perception of the self in the other that, Handke remarks, stops him from systematizing him/her ("Durch eine mythische Tür" 240). The other person mirrors back not just isolation but also uniqueness.1 [End Page 355]
The above scenarios resonate with the meaning Handke appoints the gaze in his later work, in particular, the gaze that passes between persons and creates empathetic understanding between them.2 They read like a prism of the reflections that play between viewer and viewed. In the first passage the self sees himself being seen, whereas in the second, he sees himself seeing. In both instances viewing redounds back to the self. The second passage further resembles the first in that Handke realizes that he, too, is seen as he sees others—indistinguishable in the crowd. This look alienates, stays on the surface, refuses to acknowledge the other's eyes—eyes that, as the first excerpt indicates, endow their recipients with identity. It is this other look—the returned, signifying one—that Handke wants to capture, both from others but also in his own writing. The second passage continues: the noncategorizing "Blick"—which is simultaneously a moment of illumination or "Ein-blick"—steers Handke to writing in order to recreate there a meaningful way of viewing. As he muses in Phantasien der Wiederholung, writing (or silence) must be like opening one's large eye onto the world (9). Both the gaze and writing arise out of communicative isolation; while trying to overcome silence, they recall it. The gaze is thus both expectant and sad: "Jeder Blick wartet auf den trauernden Gegenblick" (Phantasien der Wiederholung 36). The "Antwortblick" or "Gegenblick" is one that mourns, for, although it grants its recipient a sense of worth and identity, it also testifies to unbridgeable separation.
In these passages Handke underscores the signifying dependency of the (lone) self, its constitution in the field of vision. In this emphasis he resembles Jacques Lacan and numerous film theorists who have been inspired by Lacan's work on the gaze; in particular the paradigm of suture in Lacanian film studies bears on the multiple reflections between viewer and viewed in Handke. Although Handke recognizes that the subject is constructed in the scopic register, by associating with what it sees, he also demands that specularity be broken. The true, unexpected "Antwortblick" is Handke's answer to the gaze in Lacan.
Originating in Lacan's eleventh seminar and developed by his pupil Jacques-Alain Miller, the term suture was applied to film studies by Jean-Pierre Oudart where it refers to how the spectator acquires subjectivity through cinematic signification.3 Suture is premised on the viewer identifying with the gaze of a fictional character, letting this figure stand in for it and define what it sees. The initial identification is jubilant, for the viewer is privy to a visual plenitude—a previously unseen vista which s/he imagines to command. Once the viewer senses that his/her vision is restricted by the frame, however, s/he anxiously awaits another shot [End Page 356] or camera angle that will complement and comment on the preceding view. Above all, the viewer wants to see the person through whose eyes s/he has been seeing. Classically, but not exclusively, suture is defined as the shot/countershot formation, whereby the camera takes a 180 degree turn...