Critical Context

Handke has been called a representative postmodernist author by a number of critics. Postmodernism is a literary and cultural movement that grew, in part, from the insights gleaned through the structuralist and deconstructionist movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Handke’s earlier writings clearly show the influence of these trends of thought. “Reality,” “truth,” and other such absolute values are relative, a function of perception or one’s perspective. This is the “deconstructionist” side to postmodernism. There is no absolute meaning to anything, only a point of view. Handke’s texts repeatedly illustrate how “reality” is often a product or function of the language with which one describes it. The thrust of his first works was to demonstrate how what is taken to be “truth” is merely the linguistic sediment of words—fictions, as it were—that have become confused with a vision of reality. The construction of the “world” is, in essence, a creative act, a playing with fictions. This is what can be called the “constructionist” dimension of postmodernism. The fictional “truths” by which one lives can be trite and cliched, or they can be challenging and liberating. Handke’s postmodernist art seeks that latter, creative vision of reality.

It is clear why Handke places such value on the aesthetic mode of perception. Art and the imagination free one’s static perspectives on existence and make it possible to envision other possible kinds of life. The creative act is the ultimate liberation and transcendence of being or nature. Loser is on a quest for “aesthetic myths” that will allow him to transcend the suffering he experiences. The original Greek word mythos means “plot” or “story.” Art is the sole domain of mankind—only humans create works of art—and it is through creation that humanity gains its true meaning. In Heidegger’s philosophy, genuine art attempts to capture the essence of what is, and art is equal in stature to philosophy. Handke’s postmodernist quest is not for eternal truths per se, but for myths or fictions that can structure human existence.