Wed. Dec 11th, 2019

Peter Handke, the versatile dandy and eternal provocateur – La Provincia


The Austrian Peter Handke, (Griffen, 1942), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2019, is one of the most original and successful German-language writers of the second half of the twentieth century and, without a doubt, the most controversial for his proserbia position in the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Handke, born in the Austrian region of Carinthia of a Slovenian minority mother and a German father, studied law in Graz, although he soon devoted himself to a literary vocation that has led him to write theater, poetry, story, novel, script, essay and travel books. The versatile writer, who continues to cultivate his appearance as a dandy, with long hair combed back, mustache, goatee and glasses, has been living on the outskirts of Paris for more than 25 years.

An indefatigable walker and lover of silence, he has traveled many times in Spain and his works include references to these experiences and Spanish literature. For example, Essay on fatigue (1989) wrote it in Linares; Essay on the jukebox (1990), in Soria; and the novel On a dark night I left my house calmly (1997), refers to a well-known poem by San Juan de la Cruz. The Spanish geography is also reflected in Loss of image or Through the Sierra de Gredos or The beautiful days of Aranjuez.

Loneliness and uprooting

From his earliest writings his work revolved around the fragility of language, the difficulty of human communication, the sense of existence, loneliness and uprooting. Initially known for his irreverence and provocative spirit, the first play as a playwright was Publikumsbeschimpfung ( Insults to the public, 1966), in which four actors analyze the nature of the theater and dedicate themselves to insulting the public and praising their performance.

The work was a scandal and exposed Handke's avant-garde eagerness, which explored that facet in other pieces, including Kaspar (1968), His consecration came with his best-known novel: The fear of the goalkeeper before the penalty (1970), of existentialist tone, in which the story of former goalkeeper Josef Bloch is told, after being fired from his job as a mechanic. The novel was taken to the cinema by his friend on director German Wim Wenders, with whom he has made six projects, such as the script of The sky over Berlin (1987).

The last collaboration has been The beautiful days of Aranjuez (2016), based on a homonymous play and with a title taken from Don Carlos de Friedrich Schiller.

In another of his great titles, Impeccable Misfortune (1972), Handke recreates the life and suicide of his mother, at age 51, with an austere language in which he is considered the best text to enter the author's universe.

Other outstanding novels are Short letter for a long goodbye (1972), Left-handed woman (1976), The Chinese of pain (1983), A writer's afternoon (1987) or The year I spent in nobody's bay (1994).

Like other great Austrian writers, such as Thomas Bernhard or Nobel lafriede Jelinek, Handke has had a tortuous relationship with his country, which he left in the late 80s to live in France. The controversy marked the life of Handke from the publication of A winter trip to the Danube, Sava, Morava and Drina rivers, or justice for Serbia in 1996. Critics have considered that work as a proserbian pamphlet and some argue that it comes to question the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Handke has denied that he questioned or minimized that killing.

The controversy grew years later with his defense of the authoritarian Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, whom he visited in his prison in The Hague in 2004 and at whose funeral he spoke in 2006. In a trial in 2005, The Tables of Daimiel, denied the legitimacy of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to judge Milosevic. The award of the Heine Prize, in 2006, triggered the controversy in Germany. Handke resigned from the award and in 2014 also refused the Ibsen after another controversy in Norway.

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