The Weight of the World Critical Essays

Peter Handke


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Handke is the type of writer who uses his personal, subjective perceptions as a major source for his fiction, and many of the entries in The Weight of the World give indications of the kinds of experiences and themes that structure his other fictional texts. Notes concerning states of anxiety and intense visual images dominate the diary and are central to the majority of his writings. He often notes his dream events and reverie images, such as in one of the early notes for November, 1975 (“Dream sounds . . .”), and the initial entry for March 16, 1976 (“In my half-sleep . . .”). These visions, or images, form the basis of much of Handke’s writing. To formulate these often-ineffable experiences in language without distorting their essential meaning is the task of his fiction, as he explains in one of the entries for March 6, 1976, which includes another statement of the goal which informs the writing of The Weight of the World itself. His ideal of composition would be one in which these feelings and experiences would be transformed—he uses the image of the caterpillar and butterfly—into new poetic images which would also reflect in some way their origins. They would be aesthetic transformations of the “mythic” images of his own consciousness. This artistic point of view suggests that Handke is very much a post-Romantic writer.

The concept of metaphor is central to Handke’s notion of fiction, and many of the entries in The Weight of the World suggest its importance. Writing serves as an existential act of orientation because it establishes a sense of connection between consciousness (self) and the world (others) and allows the individual to overcome the extreme states of estrangement that inevitably must plague him. For Handke, metaphor—the comparison of two unlike phenomena—creates a relationship between an inner experience or idea and an external event or object, a momentary unity between self and others. He perceives himself thus to be connected through aesthetic language to the world around him. Metaphor clearly performs for him an important existential function. As Handke suggests in the entry for March 31, 1976 (“Never look for metaphors!”), such figurative language must be experienced existentially rather than merely conceived or created intellectually.

The condition of half-sleep or semiconscious reverie (Halbschlafzustand) is an important poetic state for Handke; it is a time when the division between consciousness and reality is blurred. This reverie state is a major source of Handke’s poetic sensibility, and references to it are frequent in The Weight of the World. In this condition he is consumed with images and visions that seem to fill his mind. The fundamental existential fact of the inevitable otherness—the alienation—of the self from the world that is felt so intensely during the fully wakened state is not experienced here because consciousness is enveloped in a totality of dreamlike feeling. The initial entry for March 16, 1976 (“In my half-sleep . . .”), and that for March 18, 1976 (“Images in half-sleep . . .”), are typical. Examples of this particular state of consciousness abound in his fiction, especially in earlier texts such as Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (1970; The...

(The entire section is 1352 words.)