Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Gregor Keuschnig (KOYSH-nihk), a press attaché at the Austrian embassy in Paris. His job is to read French newspapers and look for articles concerning Austria. Keuschnig is in early middle age; he is married and has a four-year-old daughter. He has a dream one night in which he murders an old woman, and from that point on he is in an extremely agitated state of mind. Although he pretends to be normal, he is at a point of psychological and spiritual crisis, alienated from his own true self. He wanders the streets of Paris, trying to make sense of his life. Keuschnig seems at times to be in a kind of schizophrenic state in which random objects take on a new and strange significance. He longs to experience something that will give his existence meaning. While sitting on a park bench, he sees three objects on the ground: a chestnut leaf, a piece of a broken mirror, and a child’s hair clip. These random items suddenly become a kind of semimystical revelation, and he realizes that he has the capacity to experience his life in a different way. This episode, however, seems to be of only momentary duration, and his profound feelings of alienation return. At home, he and his wife have a dinner party. At one point during the meal, Keuschnig begins to disrobe, and in an infantile manner, he begins to throw food at his guests. Haunted by dreams of his mother, he at times feels suicidal. He believes that he must...
(The entire section is 347 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
As with all Handke’s characters, the figure of Keuschnig is a fictionalized projection of the author himself. In an interview, Handke once remarked that this text was the most personal that he had written up to that point. As does his character, the author lived for a number of years in Paris during the 1970’s. The extreme alienation experienced by Keuschnig is a reflection of the estrangement that Handke has also discussed in interviews on several occasions. The author writes from a strongly autobiographical standpoint, and the figure of Keuschnig is an excellent example of this approach to character.
Although Keuschnig remains a projection of his author’s inner life, the character is not typical of those found in the traditional modern novel, in which authorial comment often provides the reader with insight into the motivation of the characters. Influenced by postmodernist authors such as the French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, Handke does not provide the reader with an in-depth narrative discussion of his protagonist’s psychology but rather remains on the surface of the character’s consciousness, giving the content of the individual’s behavior but little explanation for it. What Keuschnig does and thinks is reported without psychological analysis of its significance. Thus the character appears somewhat opaque, and the reader is forced to create an interpretation of the individual’s situation. This is consistent with Handke’s thematic...
(The entire section is 333 words.)