Handke, Peter (Vol. 135)
Peter Handke 1942-
German dramatist, novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet, memoirist, screenwriter, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Handke's career through 1998. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 8, 10, 15, and 38.
Since his debut as a bold experimental dramatist in the mid-1960s, Handke has earned acclaim as a major European literary figure and one of the preeminent German-language writers of his generation. A leader in the international postmodern movement, Handke consciously avoids literary or theatrical conventions in his work. Influenced by the writings of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the French structuralists, Handke's own writings examine the influence of language on the formation of personal identity as well as the problems and possibilities that arise from language. Despite his trenchant attacks on the oppressive force of social and cultural preconceptions, Handke rejects the combination of politics and literature and refuses to use his art as a platform for proselytizing. Though much of his writing is drawn from personal experience, the presentation of his ideas is often decidedly abstract, especially as he decontextualizes familiar concepts and words to probe subjective reality.
Handke was born on December 6, 1942, in the Austrian village of Griffen. Both Handke's father and stepfather were German soldiers. His mother, like most of the villagers, was part Slovenian. Handke won a scholarship to a Catholic boarding school located in Tanzenberg and then transferred to a gymnasium (a European secondary school) in Klagenfurt. He studied law at the University of Graz from 1961 to 1965. While there, he worked with writers affiliated with the avant-garde Forum Stadtpark. After he published his first novel, Die Hornissen (1966; The Hornets), Handke chose not to take the necessary exams to complete his law degree. In 1966, he married Libgart Schwarz, an actress with whom he has a daughter; they later separated, and Handke raised their daughter himself. In 1966, Handke also participated in an event that defined his literary career. He attended a convention at Princeton University of the Gruppe 47, the most influential association of German writers at the time. On the last day of the meeting, Handke, speaking from the floor, attacked the lectures and discussions he had attended. He criticized members of Gruppe 47 for their use of fictional and dramatic conventions. He insisted that literature is made up of language and not of that which language describes. In addition to its likely contribution to the decline of the Gruppe 47, Handke's highly publicized critique of his literary forebears established him as the enfant terrible of a new generation of European writers. He further declared his artistic assault on social and literary conventions in a 1967 essay entitled “Ich bin ein Bewohner des Elfenbeinturms” (“I am an Inhabitant of the Ivory Tower”). Handke's first drama, Publikumsbeschimpfung (1966; Offending the Audience), created a sensation when it premiered during a week of experimental theater in Frankfurt. Two years later, he earned international recognition as a playwright with a production of Kaspar (1968). Handke's first collection of poetry, Die Innenwelt der Auenwelt der Innenwelt (1969; The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld), appeared soon thereafter. A year later he won acclaim as a novelist with Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (1970; The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick). Since then, Handke has continued to produce additional volumes of highly regarded fiction, drama, essays, and poetry at a remarkable rate. In 1988, he was awarded the Der Grosse Oesterreichische Staatspreis, Austria's highest literary honor.
While having demonstrated his skill in many genres, Handke is known best for his drama and fiction. Handke captured the attention of audiences and critics with his first drama, Offending the Audience, in which he employed minimalist techniques to call into question traditional bourgeois theater. The play opens with four actors announcing that the anticipated dramatic performance is canceled, and instead they begin to discuss the nature of theater. The actors' discussion then turns to the spectators themselves, whom the actors alternately compliment and insult. The drama culminates in verbal abuse directed at both the audience and theatrical conventions. Handke referred to this drama as a Sprechstück, or “spoken piece,” the first of several he wrote during the late 1960s, including Selbstbezichtigung (1966; Self-Accusation), Weissagung (1966; Prophesy), Hilferufe (1967; Calling for Help), and Das Mündel will Vormund sein (1969; My Foot My Tutor). While Handke's Sprechstücke eschewed plot, characterization, and dramatic structure, the focus of these plays is language and how language determines an individual's identity. To radically underscore this point, for example, My Foot My Tutor is performed without any spoken dialogue. A later drama, Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander der wuβtten (1992; The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other) also uses no dialogue. The play consists only of stage directions and involves some 400 actors who traverse the stage, gesticulating and performing a variety of quotidian and symbolic acts. The role of language in the creation of one's social identity is central to Kaspar, Handke's first full-length play. This work, another Sprechstück, is based on the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a developmentally delayed teenage orphan in nineteenth-century Nuremberg. In Handke's version of this oft-told tale, Kaspar is indoctrinated with social precepts as he learns how to speak. Kaspar's entry into a corrupted society signals his fall from a state of natural grace.
Of Handke's first two novels, The Hornets and Der Hausierer (1967; The Peddler), repetition, minute descriptions, and atmospheres of anxiety and violence reveal the influence of the French nouveau roman, especially as practiced by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Handke's preoccupation with language is also evident in the critically important novel, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. In this book, Bloch, a construction worker, loses his job following the misinterpretation of a gesture. Bloch begins to lose his grasp of ordinary conversation and then reality. His paranoiac state culminates with the motiveless murder of a girl. Connecting language with personal identity, the book examines the alienation that results from a failure to reconcile one's inner reality to the powerful social reality. Handke explores similar themes in Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied (1972; Short Letter, Long Farewell), which involves an Austrian writer who flees his estranged wife and embarks on a parodic coast-to-coast trek across the United States. Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung (1975; A Moment of True Feeling) centers upon an Austrian diplomat who dreams that he is a murderer and attempts to authenticate his meaningless life, only to experience empathy for his fellow man which diverts him from suicide. Die Linkshändige Frau (1976; The Left-Handed Woman) features a thirty-year-old female protagonist who defies the dire expectations of others after parting from her husband and beginning her life anew. During this time, Handke also published Das Gewicht der Welt (1977; The Weight of the World), a journal of the years 1975-77 that consists of Handke's observations and reflections on his life and artistic aims while living in Paris with his daughter. Handke subsequently wrote the Langsame Heimkehr (Slow Homecoming) tetralogy, comprising the novels Langsame Heimkehr (1979; The Long Way Around), Die Lehre der Sainte-Victoire (1980; The Lesson of Sainte Victoire), and Kindergeschichte (1981; Child Story), and the dramatic poem Über die Dörfer (1981). Collectively, these works mark an important transition for Handke, who began to move away from deconstructive studies of fear and alienation to focus instead on the ameliorative properties of subjective transformation and mystical transcendence through altered states of perception. As a leading proponent of the “New Subjectivity” movement in West German literature during the 1970s and 1980s, Handke advocated a withdrawal into the liberating inner world of thought and being as an antidote to the oppressive, coercive external forces of society.
Der Chinese des Schmerzes (1983; Across) involves protagonist Andreas Loser, a teacher of classical languages and amateur archaeologist, who spots a man spray-painting swastikas on trees. He throws a stone at the graffitist and kills him, an impulsive act that reveals the dark depths of his nature and alludes to Austria's fascist guilt. Die Wiederholung (1986; Repetition) recounts the journey of a young man who leaves his Austrian home for Yugoslavia in search of his Slovenian heritage and long-lost older brother. He brings with him a Slovenian dictionary and an old notebook belonging to his missing brother, which, together, allude to the problem of language and translation. Nachmittag eines Schriftstellers (1987; The Afternoon of a Writer), based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1936 short story “Afternoon of an Author,” involves a nameless writer who, while occupying his apartment and wandering about the city during the course of the day, records his observations and reflects on the anxiety and isolation necessary for creative inspiration. Die Abwesenheit (1987; Absence), an essentially plotless novel, involves four generic characters—the old man, the soldier, the gambler, and the girl—who embark on a walking tour which, in its randomness, represents an anti-quest novel. Like Absence, the play Das Spiel vom Fragen oder Die Reise zum sonoren Land (1990; Voyage to the Sonorous Land) involves a cast of purely emblematic characters—including the actor and actress, the old couple, the local man, and the wide-eyed man—whose journeys and metamorphoses involve ventures into myth, history, and various psychological states. An even more complex consideration of reality is displayed in what may be considered Handke's magnum opus, Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht (1994; My Year in the No-Man's Bay). In this massive novel, protagonist Gregor Keuschnig, an Austrian lawyer who shares many biographical details with Handke, has moved to an ordinary Parisian suburb to write a book that turns out to be the novel being read. In his writing, the lawyer explores his isolation as well as the connection to others that he experiences. In order to make sense of his situation, he thinks of distant friends in Japan, Scotland, and Austria, as well as his son, who is traveling to Greece.
Handke's recent novel, In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus (1998), centers upon a lonely pharmacist who leaves his home and work in suburban Salzburg to embark on a journey with a champion skier and formerly respected poet whom he meets at a restaurant. Handke has also published several volumes of experimental essays, which he terms versuche (translated literally as “attempts”). These self-styled prose pieces, an amalgam of poetic meditation and metaphysical reflection, are contained in Versuch über die Müdigkeit (1989), Versuch über die Jukebox (1990), and Versuch über den geglückten Tag (1991), subsequently collected and translated in The Jukebox and Other Essays on Storytelling (1994). In the genre of nonfiction, Handke's best-known work is Wunschloses Unglück (1972; A Sorrow Beyond Dreams). In this memoir, written in the months following his mother's suicide, Handke not only recalls his mother's life but addresses the difficulty of treating her life as a literary subject while at the same time maintaining her individuality. In contrast to this highly personal work is Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau (1996; A Journey to the Rivers), in which he recounts his travels to Serbia in the fall of 1995 and relates his anger over Western media accounts of the Croatian and Bosnian wars. In addition to calling into question journalistic reporting, Handke blames the Yugoslavian crisis not on Serbia but on Germany, which, the author maintains, prematurely recognized the independence of Slovenia and Croatia.
The interest of Handke's work to critics has strengthened over time. While he is consistently praised for his evocative explorations of language, perception, and the limits of expression, some of his more experimental works, though appreciated for their ambition, have been judged overly cerebral and abstract to the point of inaccessibility. His first drama, Offending the Audience, not only thrilled the audiences that were the object of Handke's abuse, but also reviewers. Praised for its attack on conventional notions of the theater, the play has exerted a significant influence on contemporary drama. Kaspar, the last of Handke's Sprechstücke, has been cited as one of the most important works of post-World War II German literature. Even when the play's thesis—that socialization through the teaching of language robs a person of his individuality—was rejected, the drama was commended for its intellectual rigor and overall dramatic intensity. The success of Kaspar established Handke's international reputation and helped silence critics who questioned his qualifications after he spoke out against Gruppe 47. Handke was recognized as an important German novelist with the publication of his third novel, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. The book was praised for its examination of how language can influence the mind and for its use of madness as a metaphor for the writer's own difficulties. Critics note that Handke's later works change focus from the dilemma of language to the potential inherent in language. This shift in emphasis is perhaps most evident in what reviewers have judged to be the author's most significant novel, My Year in the No-Man's Bay. A great public success in German-speaking countries, the novel also fared well with critics. Reviewers praised the work for the complexity of its prose, its deft handling of the first-person narrative device, and the abundant variety of its themes. Critical response to his earlier memoir A Sorrow Beyond Dreams was similarly positive, as Handke was commended for both the sensitivity and objectivity with which he recounted his mother's life. The reaction to A Journey to the Rivers, however, could hardly have been more different. While the book was a popular success among many Europeans, Handke was strongly denounced by reviewers for writing as an apologist for Serbian hegemony. Despite the controversy surrounding this work, Handke continues to be regarded as one of the most challenging and important literary figures in the contemporary German-speaking world.
Die Hornissen [The Hornets] (novel) 1966
Publikumsbeschimpfung [Offending the Audience] (drama) 1966
Selbstbezichtigung [Self-Accusation] (drama) 1966
Weissagung [Prophesy] (drama) 1966
Begrüssung des Aufsichtrats: Prosatexte (short stories) 1967
Der Hausierer [The Peddler] (novel) 1967
Hilferufe [Calling for Help] (drama) 1967
Hörspiel (radio play) 1968
Kaspar (drama) 1968
Deutsche Gedichte (poetry) 1969
Hörspiel 2 (radio play) 1969
Die Innenwelt der Auenwelt der Innenwelt [The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld] (poetry) 1969
Kaspar and Other Plays [contains Offending the Audience, Prophecy, Self-Accusation, Calling for Help, and Kaspar] (drama) 1969
Das Mündel will Vormund sein [My Foot My Tutor] (drama) 1969
Prosa, Gedichte, Theaterstücke, Hörspiel, Aufsätze (short stories, poetry, and drama) 1969
Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter: Erzählung [The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick] (novel) 1970
Hörspiel 2, 3, und 4 (radio plays)...
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SOURCE: “Peter Handke and the End of the ‘Modern,’” in Modern Drama, Vol. XXII, No. 4, January, 1981, pp. 346-66.
[In the following essay, Hays examines the theoretical and aesthetic principles governing Handke's critical perspectives and dramatic works, particularly his effort to subvert the conventions of modern drama. According to Hays, “Handke's goal is to make art out of artifice while revealing the artifice of that art.”]
In order fully to understand Peter Handke's contribution to modern European drama, one needs not only to locate his work in relation to that of other contemporary playwrights (this has been done often enough), but also to come to grips with the fact that Handke is a serious literary critic and theoretician whose dramaturgy springs more from his desire to expose the ideological substance of drama and criticism than it does from a desire to author works which follow in the tradition of the “modern.”1 Therefore, prior to dealing with his plays, I would like to place Handke in the historical-critical context out of which his art and criticism have arisen. By exploring this context and his work, I wish to show that Handke stands at the crossroads between the modern and the as yet undefined realm of “post-modern” culture.
In his book on the modern drama, Richard Gilman comments that “ … Handke's plays are all extremely resistant to...
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SOURCE: “Politics and Poetry: Peter Handke's They Are Dying Out,” in Modern Drama, Vol. XXII, No. 4, January, 1981, pp. 339-45.
[In the following essay, Schlueter examines the deep-seated themes of individual loss and alienation that underlie the political ideology of They Are Dying Out.]
In 1974, a year after its publication, They Are Dying Out was produced at Zürich’s Theatre am Neumarkt and Berlin’s Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer. The Schaubühne, like Frankfurt’s Theater am Turm, favored politically involved plays with a leftist orientation,1 and three years earlier it had shown considerable hesitation with respect to The Ride Across Lake Constance. There was no such hesitation with They Are Dying Out, however, which Horst Zankl (who directed both the Zürich and the Berlin productions) undertook without reservation, apparently feeling its anti-capitalistic message was clear. When the Yale Repertory Theatre produced They Are Dying Out in 1979, the play was billed as a “biting, wry comment on the cult of mass marketing and its creators,”2 with translator Michael Roloff and director Carl Weber “Americanizing” the production to reflect the special embarrassments of our home-grown consumerism.
To be sure, Mr. Quitt (be he the original “Hermann” or the Americanized “Oscar”) is by anyone’s definition an...
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SOURCE: “The Sorrows of Young Writers,” in Washington Post Book World, August 26, 1984, p. 7.
[In the following excerpt, Cook offers a positive assessment of The Weight of the World.]
The avant-garde thrives in Germany and Austria as nowhere else in Europe. Solemn, strenuously intellectual and glumly determined not to entertain, the literary artists who are best known and most discussed go their own way, fiercely independent of all and everything except the state cultural agencies whose subsidies support them. Not that they would stoop to make willing compromise to the fatherland that feeds them—oh no, they mock the Germans and the Austrians unmercifully!—but almost to a man (and woman) they remain quite scrupulously apolitical. Presumably, the theory is that if they say nothing, then they can give no offense.
The Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke probably stands as foremost among them. Although his plays and novels (Kaspar, The Goalie’s Anxiety Before the Penalty Kick, The Left-Handed Woman) are more taxing than difficult, he has achieved a kind of notoriety as a spokesman for the avant-garde. He is most eloquent in denunciation. Handke is noted for his attacks on German writers of the World War II generation. Brecht’s parables for the theater, for example, he dismissed as “fairy tales.”
Yet in this new book, The...
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SOURCE: “Special Subjects,” in The New York Review of Books, August 14, 1986, pp. 37-8.
[In the following excerpt, Enright offers an unfavorable assessment of Across.]
… The title [of Across] alludes to the novel’s leitmotif, and the subject of several expert mini-essays: the threshold. “Discovering and describing thresholds became a passion with me,” albeit the Austrian narrator, by name Andreas Loser, does nothing so crude as to cross, in any discernible manner, any discernible boundary.
Possibly the narrator of Handke's earlier and more animated novel, Short Letter, Long Farewell, offers the tip when he explains that, in his view, to reduce a thing to a concept is to do away with it through the act of formulation, so that one doesn’t have to experience it again; to characterize is to degrade. Thereby hangs an avant-garde theory of fiction or anti-fiction, no doubt—one which disregards the fact that man is a conceptualizing and, more important, an interpreting animal. We are impelled to make connections, we yearn for meaning.
In the person of his narrator, Handke comes as near as anyone well can to presenting pure, unexamined experience: an intense state of dissociated consciousness verging on the autistic. However weakened by its fashionable use, “alienation” is too strong or positive a word. There are no effects here—or, rather,...
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SOURCE: “Peter Handke: From Alienation to Orientation,” in Modern Austrian Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1987, pp. 53-71.
[In the following essay, DeMeritt examines the transition from alienation and fear to harmony and happiness in Handke's literary works, drawing attention to such thematic developments in Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung and Die Lehre der Sainte-Victoire.]
The extreme subjectivity which characterizes the works of Peter Handke in the late sixties and mid-seventies is based upon an experience of alienation. Objective predetermined systems and explanations are no longer valid, and the subject is propelled into an inner world of question and doubt. The fear caused by alienation permeates Handke's earlier works, a disturbing, uneasy atmosphere of disquiet and displacement. More and more, however, this tone of subjective anxiety gives way to a quiet objectivity. Handke's more recent works are distinguished by still-lifes from nature, mythical dimensions, calmness reflected in both man and nature and founded in a feeling of harmony and oneness. Alienation is supplanted by orientation, and fear by happiness. The transition from subjective fear to objective happiness itself occupies a central position both thematically and structurally in two of Handke's works which will accordingly serve as the focal point for this examination: Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung (1975) and Die...
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SOURCE: “Peter Handke,” in The Modern German Novel, edited by Keith Bullivant, Oswald Wolff, 1987, pp. 155-70.
[In the following essay, Linstead provides an overview of Handke's literary career and discusses the major themes, artistic preoccupations, and narrative strategies of his novels.]
Peter Handke burst upon the West German literary scene in 1966, not with a novel or a play, although Die Hornissen (1966) and Publikumsbeschimpfung (1966) had already been accepted for publication, but with a tirade. At the meeting of the Group 47 in Princeton (USA) that year, Handke stood up and vehemently attacked the literature he had heard read. This caused a sensation and was widely reported in the arts sections of all the major West German papers as well as in the weeklies Die Zeit and Der Spiegel. Rapidly, however, the criticisms Handke gave voice to were lost under the tumult surrounding what was seen as a media event, a kind of ‘happening’. It wasn’t then long before Handke was accused of only being concerned with his own image-building at the Princeton meeting—as if he had somehow calculated the reaction to his intervention! When Handke's first novel duly appeared later in 1966 it was of course scrutinised very closely—and found lacking. Hence, the opinion that Handke was all show and no substance became even more rigid. It is an opinion which Handke has had to...
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SOURCE: “A Tale of Rediscovery and Renewal,” in The Christian Science Monitor, July 8, 1988, p. 18.
[In the following review, Pool offers a favorable assessment of Repetition.]
In Peter Handke's previous novel, Across, the central character asks whether “repetition,” so often viewed as negative, might instead be viewed as good. “Could not one … speak of refreshing repetition as opposed to wearisome repetition? … The possibility of repetition as opposed to the danger of repetition?” he says. “Here is my other word for repetition: ‘rediscovery.’”
Rediscovery and renewal are at the heart of Handke's new novel [Repetition], an evocative, many-layered treatment of a familiar theme: a youth setting forth to find the world and himself.
Filip Kobal’s journey takes place in the summer of 1960 when, not yet 20, he leaves his village in southern Austria for Slovenia. In part, Filip is “on the trail” of his brother Gregor who vanished in Slovenia 20 years before, during the war. Though Filip never really knew Gregor, who was 20 years his senior, throughout his childhood the missing brother was so honored and talked about that he seemed always present, “an additional voice in every conversation.”
Filip is also on the trail of his Slovenian heritage. The Kobals were banished from Slovenia in the 18th century, after...
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SOURCE: “A Magic Touch,” in New Statesman & Society, August 5, 1988, p. 38.
[In the following review, Oldfield offers a positive assessment of Repetition.]
In Peter Handke's new novel, his young narrator describes a painter retouching an unseen mural inside a wayside shrine. He resolves to write “so silently … without ulterior motive of any kind. Whatever this future work might be, it would have to be comparable to this painting, which ennobled the painter and with him the chance witness”. This sanctified, secluded site of creation is just the latest variant on Handke's belief that literature belongs in an “ivory tower”, that it can be an autonomous pleasure-dome of language. His career has been a struggle against the confinements and sclerosis of language and a search for a cleansed, innocent vision.
In Repetition, Filip Kobal recalls a cross-border pilgrimage in his youth to the Yugoslavia of his forbears, with only his long-lost brother’s German-Slovenian dictionary and agricultural college copybook as a vade mecum. Some readers will take it as a journal of self-discovery and recovered familial roots. In fact, it’s less about finding a place or an identity than about a visionary uncovering of the world. Problems of identity or purpose receive magical resolution, often in the parallel worlds of etymology, phonetics or semantics, in language....
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SOURCE: “Of What, Then, Shall He Write?,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 16, 1989, pp. 3, 11.
[In the following review, Hegi offers a positive assessment of The Afternoon of a Writer.]
Language functions as barrier and bridge in Peter Handke's The Afternoon of a Writer, a fascinating exploration of a man who has distanced himself from his life and, therefore, from the material he draws from in his writing. Though aware of sensuous details in his environment, he remains emotionally detached. His major connection to the world is through language, a sequence of words which—he reminds himself frequently—he has lost contact with before.
Handke's nameless writer, who lives with his nameless cat in an unnamed German city with many bridges, believes he wants to be with people; yet, he cannot even tolerate a superficial encounter. In a restaurant, he notices the waitress’ little boy at a table next to the kitchen door. “Instead of looking at the child for any length of time, he had intermittently registered its presence. And now the place at the table was empty.” This sense of loss is repeated throughout the novel, a loss of something that never was real to begin with.
The writer wants anonymity, not the terrible intimacy with the public who feels it owns him, who can take his photo, stop him, demand an autograph. “He was no longer a writer as he...
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SOURCE: “Tender Is His Plight,” in The New Leader, October 2-16, 1989, pp. 18-9.
[In the following review, Kamine offers a positive evaluation of The Afternoon of a Writer.]
This short novel [The Afternoon of a Writer] was inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Afternoon of an Author.” That story describes one uneventful day in its protagonist’s life, episodically tracking his movements through Baltimore and recording his memory-laden reflections. It opens with the author feeling “better than he had for many weeks” and ends—after he suffers a crisis of confidence—with his resolution to go on writing. The piece is alternately ironic and elegiac.
Handke reproduces the story’s structure. His “writer” (like Fitzgerald’s “author,” he is never named) is at home working when he feels “impelled to go out” into the December twilight. An acute but fragile person, he ambles through an anonymous European city. Over the course of his day, we are made to feel the slipperiness of his hold on his craft and sanity alike. The day is filled with minor crises, including a hallucination-filled trek down a crowded street and an angry reaction to a daily newspaper. In the end, though, he too resolves to go on with his work. The closing line—“To himself he was a puzzle, a long-forgotten wonderment”—is as good a description of Fitzgerald’s character as Handke's....
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SOURCE: A review of The Afternoon of a Writer, in The Nation, December 4, 1989, pp. 694-5.
[In the following review, Leonard offers a positive assessment of The Afternoon of a Writer.]
Peter Handke's early novel The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and his semifictionalized memoir of his mother’s suicide, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, were both fiery gems. Since then, the Austrian novelist, poet, playwright and translator seems to me to have been painting himself into a corner and then complaining that he couldn’t move. His books got thinner and more exasperating. So what if language itself were the secret hero of listless narratives like A Moment of True Feeling, The Left-Handed Woman and Repetition? We’d been here before—at this impasse, in this trap—in the superior company of Kafka and Rilke and Sartre. I found myself preferring Handke's collaborations with the filmmaker Wim Wenders. At least in the movies all that language was attached to something I could look at, even if what I was looking at was urban masochism. Handke's latest, The Afternoon of a Writer, is a reproach and reminder. We go on reading these complicated Europeans through their depressive phases until they finally get it right, and then we’re dazzled.
A nameless writer in a nameless Central European city leaves the warmth of his room and his cat for a...
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SOURCE: “Writer-Consciousness,” in The New Yorker, December 25, 1989, pp. 103-8.
[In the following excerpt, Updike offers a tempered assessment of The Afternoon of a Writer, which he notes may appear “pompous” and “claustrophobic” to American readers despite its “phenomenal intensity.”]
Harold Ross, the founding editor of this weekly, was wary of, among many other things, “writer-consciousness,” and would mark phrases and sentences wherein, to his sensibility, the writer, like some ugly giant squid concealed beneath the glassy impersonality of the prose, was threatening to surface. Writing, that is, like our grosser animal functions, could not be entirely suppressed but shouldn’t be performed in the open. Yet fashions in aesthetic decorum change. Modernism, by the spectacular nature of its experiments, invited admiring or irritated awareness of the experimenting author. Intentionally or not, the written works of James Joyce and T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway were exercises in personality, each provoking curiosity about the person behind the so distinctive voice. Postmodernism, if such a thing exists, without embarrassment weaves the writer into the words and the twists of the tale. Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, the mirrors and false bottoms of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire and The Gift,...
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SOURCE: A review of Das Spiel vom Fragen oder Die Reise zum Sonoren Land, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 1, Winter, 1990, pp. 100-1.
[In the following review, Skwara complains that Das Spiel vom Fragen oder Die Reise zum Sonoren Land tends to be abstract and inaccessible.]
Peter Handke's newest book [Das Spiel vom Fragen oder Die Reise zum Sonoren Land] is a play, although it seems difficult to imagine the work successfully staged and performed. It is too cerebral and symbolistic to captivate a viewing audience with ease, I fear. Is it then a text destined rather to be read despite the distribution of roles and a cast of characters stemming half from history and myth, half from the author’s increasingly abstract yet sensual vision of things? Or, put differently, what is Handke's intention when he transgresses purposefully the limits between the traditional literary genres?
In Das Spiel vom Fragen Handke seems to violate the foremost demand made on all literary fiction: namely, to create reality instead of delivering analysis. The play is so rich in words that they sometimes stand as obstacles between text and reader. We must watch out constantly to avoid stumbling over these words. Of course, Handke (see WLT 55:4, pp. 603–7) may just want us to stumble. He is too careful and too experienced an author to have fallen unwittingly into such a...
(The entire section is 697 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Versuch über die Müdigkeit, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 460-1.
[In the following review, Skwara offers a positive assessment of Versuch über die Müdigkeit.]
What a wise and beautiful book, quite possibly one of Peter Handke's major works. Did we, the tired ones, ever know or suspect how much variety and wealth there is to being tired, how much power of innovation is hiding behind fatigue? We will find out and come out of it rejuvenated, or at least reconciled and comforted with our frailties. Versuch über die Müdigkeit is an essay—or is it a story, or mere poetry?—that we want to read slowly, frightened as we progress about the book’s small size, since we do not wish to come to the end. Naturally, there is the liberty to read again, to return often to these pages, and I suspect we will.
What then sets the work apart from others Handke (see WLT 62:1, pp. 74–75, and 55:4, pp. 203–7) has written in recent years? As is often the case, the text is built on memory. Handke goes back to his childhood, and soon the Du of an inner dialogue between the writer and the remembered child and adolescent takes over, giving the prose the solemn tone that many Handke readers deplore. Nevertheless, it is the right tone for the voice of the poet detecting festivity in what we like to call—wrongfully—our...
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SOURCE: “Only Disconnect,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 1, 1990, p. 3.
[In the following review, Hegi complains that Absence lacks characterization and creates intentional linguistic gaps.]
The four nameless characters in Peter Handke's latest novel are like paper dolls, suspended against a bleak sky in a chain of silhouettes that block the scant light. Told in a strangely passive voice that appears to rise from a void, Absence is not only about the condition of being absent—it also demonstrates the condition through the absence of words, connections and characterization.
Though Handke's characters are indifferent and detached, his language soars at times. His old man “resembles an old singer, long fallen silent.” The woman, who has been told by her lover that she is corrupt and destructive, lives surrounded by photos of herself in which she “displays the same look of imperiousness and of knowing herself to be the center of attention.” The gambler, impassive and volatile, mumbles to a packet of bank notes: “Instead of embodying the world, I am the point where lovelessness is concentrated.” The soldier disengages himself from the attention of others by focusing on things around him. His parents accuse him, “You don’t make your presence felt. … You’re there and then again you’re not. It’s your absence that drives us away from you.”...
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SOURCE: “Ding-Bild-Schrift: Peter Handke's Slow Homecoming to a ‘Chinese’ Austria,” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 36, No. 3, Autumn, 1990, pp. 381-94.
[In the following essay, Caviola examines the development and significance of Handke's increasingly sober and subjective tone in Langsame Heimkehr and Der Chinese des Schmerzes. Caviola argues that “Handke's solemn tone cannot be taken at face value but has to be perceived in the context of an aesthetic that is allegorically inscribed in the text.”]
“Niemand, fast niemand, kann oder mag Handke noch weiter auf dem Wege folgen, den dieser nun schon seit mehreren Büchern eingeschlagen hat.” This remark by Jürgen Manthey (383) reflects a general trend in the reception of Peter Handke's latest works. Starting with Langsame Heimkehr (1979), Handke's writing has acquired a new tone that, although adumbrated by his preceding works, either surprised or affronted many of his previous readers. Invariably, negative critical response has focused on the subjectivity and solemnity of Handke's new tone. Manfred Durzak, for example, accused Handke of narcissism, criticizing his seeming indifference to literature’s social and political dimension. With Langsame Heimkehr, Durzak judges, Handke is “als Künstler abgestürzt” (159). Jörg Drews discovers an attitude of self-ordained...
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SOURCE: “Challenging the Arrogance of Power with the Arrogance of Impotence: Peter Handke's Somnambulistic Energy,” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 36, No. 3, Autumn, 1990, pp. 369-79.
[In the following essay, Metcalf examines Handke's preoccupation with the aesthetic and contextual properties of language, particularly Handke's effort to purify language of its conventional meanings and associations in order to break free from “rationalistic discourse.” Metcalf writes, [Handke's] “impotent power is that of an alert dreamer, who reifies through illusion, who reveals by obscuring and enveiling words and concepts, and who gains in presence by withdrawing.”]
In 1967 Peter Handke built himself an ivory tower, and he has resided in it ever since. The theories about language and writing that he exposed in his essay “Ich bin ein Bewohner des Elfenbeinturms” have continued to serve as his guiding principles throughout his more than twenty years of authorship. During the last decade, Handke has drifted further and further in the direction of mysticism, which has become the ultimate consequence of his rejection of current nonliterary discourse.
Based on Herbert Gamper’s long interview with Handke, Aber ich lebe nur von den Zwischenräumen, and Handke's two most recent works, Das Spiel vom Fragen: oder die Reise zum sonoren Land and...
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SOURCE: “A Superior Reality,” in Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 1991, p. 20.
[In the following review, Hofmann offers a positive assessment of Absence.]
Peter Handke's descriptions of reality are of two kinds: some are of superior accuracy, some describe a superior reality. After an initial struggle, Absence settles down as a book of the second type. In German, it was subtitled Ein Märchen. The English publisher’s blurb works out an ambitious platform for it as “a narrative scrutiny of the absence which lies at the heart of human identity and endeavour”, but to me it seems a book entirely without and against reason: it could have been any length, about any subject, under any title. Purely aleatory, it allows the author and reader the greatest possible freedom.
Handke brings together four protagonists—the epic trope from Homer to Westerns—and then takes them for a walk, a loop starting out from the city and returning to it. It is a kind of counter-epic, in which plot and character are practically excluded, but landscape and weather go through the most extraordinary and dramatic developments. The four figures, called the Old Man, the Soldier, the Gambler and the Girl, have no significant interaction with one another, and when the Old Man vanishes and the three remaining figures decide at the end to go and look for him, that is only the promise of a second...
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SOURCE: “The Elusive Perfect Day,” in Times Literary Supplement, October 4, 1991, p. 34.
[In the following review, White offers an unfavorable assessment of Versuch über den geglückten Tag.]
Peter Handke's new prose-work is the third in a series of “Versuche”, essays-cum-experimental stylistic explorations of a theme, which have recently become his preferred mode. Versuch über die Müdigkeit (1989), on “tiredness”, marked a first flirtation with the form. An amalgam of snatches of recollected experience, reflective passages, random aperçus and tentative jottings about the nature and functions of tiredness, it involved both a new concentration on a circumscribed subject and a tendency to backwoods philosophizing. Addressing a less intractable subject than its predecessor, Versuch über die Jukebox (1990) registered the object’s importance for the central figure in a more controlled blend of narration and rumination. However, with his new book, Versuch über den geglückten Tag, Handke has taken on a theme so decidedly elusive that he even has difficulty pinpointing a terminology or a repertoire of images appropriate to his material.
The mystical notion of a “geglückter Tag” in the title signifies nothing so simple as what one might think of as a perfect or happy day, a day crowned with success or felicitous encounters: the narrator...
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SOURCE: A review of Versuch über den geglückten Tag, in World Literature Today, Vol. 66, No. 4, Autumn, 1992, pp. 716-7.
[In the following review, Skwara offers a positive evaluation of Versuch über den geglückten Tag.]
Not one word on the dust jacket, not the merest hint tells the prospective reader what kind of book Versuch über den geglückten Tag is. There is no need, since Peter Handke presents us with his third Versuch. His two previous books, Versuch über die Müdigkeit and Versuch über die Jukebox (see WLT 64:3, p. 460, and 65:2, p. 301 respectively), have established a new dimension of literature’s realistic claim not just to describe but to change our world through the right word. In my earlier review of Versuch über die Müdigkeit I praised Handke's realization that there is no such thing as “everyday life” or “being tired” in favor of elevating fatigue to a universe in itself. Now that Handke has written his third Versuch on as elusive a theme as the title suggests, we are faced with a triptych on the unspeakable made language, the invisible made form. It is as if all the author’s prior writing were done to culminate in this trinity of texts, and we might worry how Handke can possibly continue from his current pinnacle, if we did not know that his strongest claim to eminence has always been his unmatched capability of...
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SOURCE: “Seeing Through the Eyes of the Word,” in Theater, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1993, pp. 87-92.
[In the following essay, Honegger examines Handke's approach to the problem of language and verbal expression in his dramatic works and prose experiments, particularly the use—or absence—of words to reveal both the limitations and interpretative potential of language and its associated meanings.]
… As though everyone everywhere in the world, day in, day out, always had his pictorial mission: the mission to be a picture to others: the woman walks “past the train station, along a puddle collecting the falling rain, as ‘the housewife on her way to the market,’ and further in the distance someone walks by as ‘the man with the umbrella;’” thus, offering their pictures of themselves, they help one another (me, at least) …
—Peter Handke: Fantasies of Repetition, 1983
Peter Handke's most recent work for the theater, The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, is a play without words. It takes place in a square, inspired by the piazza of a small town near Trieste. Handke had spent an afternoon there watching the goings-on, each passer-by suggesting the fragment of a story which takes its shape only in the context of all the preceding and succeeding moments witnessed by the spectator, who in turn entered his own...
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SOURCE: A review of Die Theaterstücke, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 3, Summer, 1993, p. 604.
[In the following review, Falk assesses Die Theaterstücke and Handke's literary development.]
The meteoric ascent of the enfant terrible of the German literary establishment, Peter Handke, commenced in 1966. Only twenty-three years old in April of that year, he openly challenged the elite writers of Gruppe 47, then meeting at Princeton University. Their writing, he maintained, was an impotent literature of mere description; he would investigate all possibilities and types or forms of representing reality, contending that using the same form a second time would offer nothing new to the reader or audience, at best being a variation or unrealistic mannerism.
The iconoclast Handke now set off to demonstrate his revolutionary esthetic for the German theater. Not every play was totally successful, but audiences certainly took special note. Publikumsbeschimpfung was the much-debated sensation when it opened as the centerpiece of the “Experimenta 66” drama festival at Frankfurt’s Theater am Turm in June 1966. In subsequent years it seemed to be included in the repertory of most theater groups; the Forum Theater in Berlin, for example, performed it several thousand times in the next two decades.
In the fall of 1966 the Sprechstücke (speech...
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SOURCE: A review of Langsam im Schatten, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 4, Autumn, 1993, p. 820.
[In the following review, Skwara offers a positive assessment of Langsam im Schatten.]
Peter Handke's most recent book, containing essays, speeches, reviews, and critical comments, is by no means a minor but a major work. Its richness, diversity, and depth confirm—differently yet almost more so than narrative prose publications of recent years—the author as one of the most interested, most informed, most concerned, most universal literary figures alive today. Needless to say, all these qualities mentioned are referred to as greatness when found in a writer. This assessment holds true all the more so when based on the reading of a collection of so-called peripheral or secondary works such as presented here, since subjective agreement or liking is not of the essence but much rather a growing awareness of where Handke's mind takes the reader. I, for one, could not imagine a guide I would follow more willingly if I were lost “in the dark forest” (and aren’t we all lost, more so than ever?).
Langsam im Schatten contains a good number of essays on various writers of various languages, most of them composed on the occasion of these very writers’ receiving the exclusive Petrarca Prize (awarded by a jury consisting of Alfred Kolleritsch, Michael Krüger, Peter Hamm,...
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SOURCE: “New Prose: Meditative Fiction,” in Peter Handke, Twayne, 1993, pp. 121-41.
[In the following essay, Firda provides an overview of the major themes, narrative presentation, and artistic concerns in Der Chinese des Schmerzes, Die Wiederholung, Nachmittag eines Schriftstellers, and Die Abwesenheit.]
Andreas Loser, the symbolic narrator-protagonist of Handke's 1983 novel Der Chinese des Schmerzes (Across) is a brooding, mediative teacher of classical languages at a school in the suburbs of Salzburg.1 Loser, as his name connotes in English translation, is an outsider and loner, a type familiar to readers of Angst and Stunde. Loser is also an amateur archeologist who spends his spare time uncovering historical and cultural artifacts. His specialty is finding thresholds of houses, churches, and temples in the vicinity of the city. He writes an occasional scholarly article on his researches for the Salzburg Yearbook for Regional Studies. Early in the text Loser explains that his passion for archeology and his unique approach to the study of ancient thresholds are a consequence of an observation once made to him by an older archeologist. This man told Loser that he only “wanted to find something, so that during our digs, I tried more to avoid what was there than what was not, no matter how it had ‘gone away.’ What was missing was in fact...
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Times Literary Supplement (review date 16 September 1994)
SOURCE: A review of The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, in Times Literary Supplement, September 16, 1994, p. 19.
[In the following review, the critic offers an unfavorable assessment of The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other.]
Edinburgh audiences have long since realized that the centre of energy and the avant-garde on the European stage is in non-scripted and often non-verbal performance. It is a lesson that could have been learned in recent Festivals from, for example, Els Comediants, or Teatr Nowy and a whole range of other Polish companies, or from the Compagnie Jerome Duchamps or any other of the former students of Jacques Lecoq’s theatre school performing on Festival or Fringe. The director of The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, Luc Bondy, is one of these former students, also at one time much interested in Polish theatre. It is a background which no doubt helps him to cope with a stage-manager’s nightmare, a sixty-four-page script containing nothing but stage directions. Bondy managed to translate it into a beautiful, often absorbing spectacle on the huge stage of Edinburgh’s new Festival Theatre—big enough to contain what the programme triumphantly claims is “life … in all its infinite variety, joy, pathos, bathos, and despair”, presented by a cast of thirty-three who people...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
SOURCE: “Language and Reality,” in Partisan Review, Vol. LXII, No. 2, 1995, pp. 314, 316, 318-20, 322, 324, 326.
[In the following review, Honegger analyzes Handke's literary and aesthetic preoccupations in The Jukebox and Other Essays on Storytelling.]
Claude Lanzman, explaining his approach to filmmaking, quoted from an uncredited source: “When I have the answers, I write an essay, When I have the questions, I write a novel.” This in a nutshell sums up the problem with the English title given to three exquisite prose pieces by Peter Handke, presented in one volume as Essays about Story Telling: On Tiredness, The Jukebox, and The Successful Day.
In the original German editions, each piece appeared separately as a slim, handsome book, each entitled Versuch—a difficult term to capture in English without losing some of its resonances. Literally meaning “attempt,” the term suggests an experiment that implies a certain humility in tackling the given subject matter, an uncertainty about the outcome, a grappling also with the task and how to approach it, all of it pointing to what the author is after, which is first and foremost tracking the right questions. Two of the highly personal pieces were written as Handke's dialogues with himself. Here, he continues a kind of archeological dig for a lost art which he had taken up in his play The Art...
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SOURCE: A review of Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht, in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 3, Summer, 1995, pp. 572-3.
[In the following review, Skwara offers a favorable assessment of Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht.]
It can be argued and readily proven on the basis of the available body of world literature that a writer’s or poet’s greatness lies in his ability to renew himself constantly, thus surprising not only readers but language itself with increasingly innovative ways to describe both outer and inner world, while the basic artistic and human vision remains loyally intact. Seen this way, the ever-surprising Peter Handke is one of the greatest living authors, and is recognized as such. He has just presented us with his major work to date [Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht], both in length and in scope. This magnum opus, while not called specifically a novel, is by no means a fairy tale either, as the subtitle would suggest. It is, as if to stress the aforementioned, altogether something new, and daring, yet by no means an experimental work; this expansive book, most rare in its breadth in contemporary European writing, reads and convinces immediately as a classic—it is here to stay. Its author is to be thanked and congratulated—since such things are so rarely said nowadays—for having given both to myth and to careful introspection, as well as to the forever renewable,...
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SOURCE: “Words and Serbs,” in Times Literary Supplement, April 26, 1996, p. 29.
[In the following review, Timms finds shortcomings in Handke's criticism of Western media coverage of the Balkan war in Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina.]
Peter Handke made his name in the 1960s through a critique of received ideas, deconstructing the cliché transmitted by education and the media in dazzling disquisitions like Selbstbezichtigung (Self-Indictment) and Publikumsbeschimpfung (Insulting the Audience). In his most recent book, he returns to these themes with a vengeance, focusing on the distortions arising from media coverage of the war in the former Yugoslavia. Eine winterliche Reise is an account of a journey in Serbia at the end of 1995, especially of the way the media have falsified perceptions of the war by casting the Serbs exclusively in the role of “aggressors” and emphasizing the sufferings of the Bosnian Muslims, while largely ignoring those of the Serbian communities driven from their homes in Bosnia and Croatia. The subtitle “Justice for Serbia” underlines his concern to redress the balance.
Rarely can such a slim volume have made such an impact. Handke has certainly succeeded in his primary aim of dramatizing the contrast between two modes of discourse: journalism, with its instant image-making and its...
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SOURCE: A review of Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 1, Winter, 1997, pp. 147-8.
[In the following review, Ziolkowski commends Handke's intent but finds his efforts to provide an impartial view of Serbia unsuccessful in Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien.]
Peter Handke's controversial essay [Eine winterliche Reise], which first appeared in January 1996 in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, is yet another manifestation of his continuing fascination with the former Yugoslavia. Ten years ago, in his semiautobiographical fiction Die Wiederholung (see WLT, 61:2, p. 284), Handke, the descendant of a Slovenian grandfather, portrayed the intellectual awakening of a young writer in the course of a trip through that northwestern province. The present journey, undertaken in late October and early November 1995 with two Serbian friends, leads him to the other end of that disintegrating country.
The subtitle tells us why Handke wrote his book. Appalled by the anti-Serbian positions of the international press—Handke mentions Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Time, and notably the Frankfurter Allgemeine—and dismayed by the anti-Serbian animus of his own generation—here he singles out such...
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SOURCE: “Question Marks,” in Theater, Vol. 27, Nos. 2-3, 1997, pp. 161-3.
[In the following review, Sellar offers a positive evaluation of Voyage to the Sonorous Land and The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other.]
Thirty years after his disgust with the straitjackets of language and received ideas led him to write his polemic-based Sprechstücke, Peter Handke has arrived at a surprising paradox. Despite his enduring conviction that language is to blame for the narrow culture of his native Austria, Handke's own poetic gifts have multiplied. Now the most important European writer in any medium, Handke forges exquisite dialogue and turns of phrase, and crafts sensuous, evocative literature—while he continues to discredit language and deny the authenticity of words.
Since publishing The Long Way Round in 1981 (translated in 1989), Handke has produced little new work for the stage, making Gitta Honegger’s fine translations of these two 1992 plays [Voyage to the Sonorous Land and The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other] welcome indeed. They reveal that Handke's dramatic sensibility has not softened since his early days: he’s only changed strategies to reflect his achievements in prose fiction.
Like his 1987 novel Absence, Voyage to the Sonorous Land follows a band of strangers who have joined together to take a...
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SOURCE: “Short Book, Long Apology,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 12, 1997, p. 12.
[In the following review, Rieff offers a negative evaluation of A Journey to the Rivers, which he calls a “contemptible book.”]
For all the divisions that became apparent between their nations once the former Yugoslavia descended into war in 1991, Western European and North American intellectuals were remarkably united in their responses to the catastrophe. In this way, as in so many others, the Croatian and Bosnian wars seem to have recapitulated the experience of the Spanish Civil War more than half a century earlier.
Then as now, the stances of the major outside powers were either frankly to side with the rebels (Franco’s Fascists in 1936; the Bosnian Serbs in 1992) or to remain formally neutral but interpreting that neutrality to mean that the government side (the Spanish Republicans; the authorities in Sarajevo) was to be prevented as much as possible from obtaining the weapons it needed to defend itself. All the while, most intellectuals in these same countries condemned their governments’ policies, taking sides in 1992 with Sarajevo as they had taken sides in 1936 with Madrid. And while there were, of course, no international brigades in Bosnia—perhaps it would have been better had there been—more than a few intellectuals made the dangerous trip to Sarajevo during...
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SOURCE: A review of Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 3, Summer, 1997, pp. 584-5.
[In the following review, Ziolkowski offers a negative assessment of Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise.]
Why did Peter Handke write this little book [Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise]? The controversial work to which it is a “summer supplement”—his Winterliche Reise … oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien (1996; see WLT 71:1, p. 147)—had a stated purpose. It amounted to a plea for impartiality and tolerance toward the Serbs, who, Handke believed, were being treated unfairly by the international press. As an inspired travel report, it added a useful piece to the mosaic of that troubled land.
The same cannot be said of this brief new appendix. With the same two Serbian companions and six months after the first trip, Handke now ventures across the Drina River into Bosnia (into which they only gazed previously). The first third of the account is a concentrated repetition of the first trip: Handke corrects a few impressions from his November travels and gets reactions to the earlier work from several of his Serbian interlocutors.
Then they cross the river for one-day forays into Višegrad and Srebrenica. The first destination amounts to an homage to Ivo Andrić, and Handke...
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SOURCE: A review of In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus, in World Literature Today, Vol. 72, No. 1, Winter, 1998, pp. 123-4.
[In the following review, Skwara offers a positive assessment of In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus.]
Each one of Peter Handke's books—or so it seems in retrospect—has taught its readers a lesson. Where the author’s youthful works contained lessons in a daredevil kind of genius, extending and jumping limits and borders of language, content and style, his later books offered firm proof of the possibility for renewal and transformation. Now, with his latest novel [In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus], Handke seems to be teaching his readership how to take wing and fly.
The recent completion of a thousand-page novel, Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht (1995; see WLT 69:3, p. 572) would leave any other author in a state of silence at least for a while. Handke, however, followed that book with an important theatrical play which premiered in early 1997 at the Vienna Burgtheater, and a mere few weeks later the novel under review was published. Still, there is neither a line that might sound reminiscent of the earlier magnum opus, nor a thought that would coincide with the play. Even though employing a first-person narrative form, Handke has written not an autobiographical text but...
(The entire section is 749 words.)
SOURCE: “On a Blue Note,” in Washington Post Book World, September 20, 1998, p. 8.
[In the following review, McGonigle offers positive assessments of My Year in the No-Man's Bay and Once Again for Thucydides.]
Peter Handke's literary career has a pleasingly ambitious feel to it, and over the years most of this Austrian writer’s many books and plays have been well translated and published in America.
Early Handke books such as the startling road novel Short Letter, Long Farewell, about a journey from Providence, R.I., to John Ford’s house in California, and A Sorrow Beyond Words, a meditation on the suicide of his mother, are impossible to forget. He captures the definitely modern feeling that something is wrong—a something freighted with words like “anxiety,” “tedium,” “despair.”
A new note of an acceptance of complex reality has gradually come to the fore in Handke's work (he is also the author of 14 other volumes of poetry, essays, fiction and nonfiction translated into English). My Year in the No-Man's Bay, first published in German in 1994, is a wonderful place to renew an acquaintanceship with him.
While labeled a novel, this new book seems in some mysterious way to be autobiographical in the manner of Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard. Gregor Keuschnig, an Austrian lawyer older than Handke but...
(The entire section is 715 words.)
SOURCE: “Drizzle, Birdcall, Leaf Fall,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 29, 1998, pp. 6-7.
[In the following review, Gass offers a positive evaluation of My Year in the No-Man's Bay.]
When the Seine leaves Paris for the Channel, it makes several large loops while being forced by physics to skirt high ground. The first of these “bays” contains the hills of the Seine, low waves across a crescent-shaped region upon which the suburbs have intruded, but where large forests still remain, and also an area that shelters an airfield frequently bombed during World War II, so that craters can be seen on its many wooded walks. La Hauts-de-Seine halfmoons a landscape that is historically layered, in touch with the city but almost country in character, neither entirely one thing nor the other, a condition that makes it attractive to this geographical novel, in which flora and fauna, climate and terrain, are traits like those ascribed normally to fictional creatures and are the environments that the narrator walks through, either by himself or in the guise of friends who become his surrogate travelers.
In this bay, an area withdrawn from the whole, the narrator has marooned himself, and his journeys are confined to rambles that the onset of suburbanism has reduced and circumscribed. They take place over a terrain where any hill higher than a building becomes a mountain, but a...
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Bernofsky, Susan. “‘The Threshold Is the Source’: Handke's Der Chinese des Schmerzes.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction XXXII, No. 1 (Fall 1990): 58-65.
Provides analysis of Der Chinese des Schmerzes, drawing attention to the presence of “thresholds,” or in-between states of emotional and psychological change, where the narrator's shifting perceptions are played out for the reader.
Chernaik, Judith. “Green Thoughts.” Times Literary Supplement (14 July 1989): 775.
Faults the excessive length and moralizing of The Long Way Around.
DeMeritt, Linda C. “The Question of Relevancy: New Subjectivity and Peter Handke.” Modern Language Studies XVI, No. 4 (Fall 1986): 22-38.
Examines the characteristics and merits of “New Subjectivity” literature, particularly the aspects of alienation and authorial intent, through analysis of Handke's Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung.
———. New Subjectivity and Prose Forms of Alienation: Peter Handke and Botho Strauss. New York: Peter Lang, 1987, 278 p.
Book-length critical study of German “New Subjectivity” literature, with comparative case studies of works by Handke and Botho Strauss.
Firda, Richard Arthur. Peter Handke. New...
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