A Moment of True Feeling Characters

Peter Handke

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gregor Keuschnig

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 somehow make the world “mysterious” so that he can again perceive existence in a new, revitalized way. At the end of the novel, he realizes that he must find a new job and change his life.

The Writer

The Writer, a friend of Keuschnig. He is about the same age as Keuschnig and has the habit of constantly watching other people and writing down notes. He seems to follow Keuschnig around, noting his behavior. This constant observation comes to annoy the latter, and, during the dinner party, Keuschnig attacks him.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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 intentions, which emphasize the postmodernist view that “reality” is a construction, the product of an individual perspective that is expressed primarily through language.

In A Moment of True Feeling, the figure of the writer—who is always silently taking notes on Keuschnig’s actions but never offering comment—is also a reflection of the author himself. Handke the author (the writer) reflects here upon himself as human being (Keuschnig); his analytical-creative self confronts his experiential self. For Handke, the creation of character becomes a mode of literary self-analysis, a way of orienting himself in the real world through the reflection of fictions.