Peter Handke was born in Griffen, Austria, on December 6, 1942. With the exception of a four-year period from 1944 to 1948, when he lived in Berlin, Handke lived in the country in Southern Austria. In 1961, he entered the University of Graz to study law. The critic Nicholas Hern argues that this legal training influenced Handke’s style: “Most of his plays . . . consist of a series of affirmative propositions each contained within one sentence which is usually a simple main clause on a main clause on a main clause plus one subordinate clause.” While he was at the university, Handke published his work in Manuskripts, the university’s literary review. From 1963 onward, he devoted himself to writing, and his first novel, Die Hornissen (1966; the hornets), appeared the year after he left the university.
This novel earned for Handke the chance to read at the prestigious Gruppe 47 conference in April of 1966, held that year at Princeton University. There he read from his second novel, Der Hausierer (1967; the peddler), and on the last day of the meeting he delivered a blistering attack on what he saw as the artistic failures of the group’s older members. Handke argued that much German postwar writing was too realistic and descriptive and “failed to realize literature is made with language, not with the things that one describes with language.”
This outburst and the success of his first play, Offending the...
(The entire section is 470 words.)