Es didn’t need to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature three years ago to make Peter Handke known. Or controversial. He became both right from the start of his career as a writer, in 1966, when the then twenty-three-year-old published his debut novel “Die Hornissen”, which was about writing itself, at Suhrkamp’s, vilified the literary establishment at the Gruppe 47 conference in Princeton and finally in August through a in Frankfurt premiered play also attracted attention in non-literary circles because it bore the provocative title “audience abuse”. From then on, the Austrian Handke was considered enfant terrible of German literature, and he enjoyed this reputation, especially since it did him no harm.
On the contrary: in 1973, at the age of just thirty, Handke was the youngest author to date – and the only one to have returned the prize money, but only in 1999 when he snubbed him with statements about the Yugoslav wars that were clearly not intended to be a provocation , but represented the honest, but all the more disillusioning conviction of the politicizing and anthropologizing writer.
His denial of the crimes committed by the Serbs in the wars made him even more controversial, but did not prevent him from winning the Nobel Prize. Rightly so if one understands the award as purely literary, wrongly if one judges Handke’s writing by his own standards. This writer’s emphasis on his own work is unparalleled: “Narrative, nothing more worldly than you, nothing more just, my holy of holies,” says the finale of the novel “The Repetition”, published in 1986, with imagery that is as metaphysical as it is martial: “Narrative, patroness of ranged fighter, my lady. Tale, most spacious of all vehicles, heavenly chariot. Eye of the narration, reflect me, for only you recognize me and appreciate me.” Here speaks a first-person narrator who does not want to be separated from his author. Handke lives in, through and thanks to his literature.
The French influence
Having spent half his life in France, it was there that he became what constitutes his literary stature (and his risk): an observation signpost. Montaigne is a fixed reference, the great master of introspection. Handke, however, reverses his procedure: His gaze does not explore his own inner being, but the world around him – “New windows, please! (in the old environment)” is a characteristic demand of him – which then has to be made his own in order to create a “feeling for the world”. This principle is described in detail in the notes that Handke compiled during four months of 1978, which were only published as a book a few days ago: as “de-objectification of perception; think things into himself and ‘let them take their course’ there (that would be his feeling for the world)”.
However, even such Handkeian idealism cannot do without individual control: “He quietly traced the shape and form of things within himself, calmed their rigidity by enlivening them (he was the master of events; kept in balance)”, it says in the notes in 1978 as a draft for the novel “Slow Homecoming”, which was published the following year. Otherwise the writer would remain a mere recording device.
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