Handke, Peter

(1942–)
   Born in Carinthia, Handke attended a high school that trained students for admission to Catholic seminaries. Even as he studied law from 1961 to 1965 in Graz, he had begun a career that would make him one of the most famous writers to emerge from post–World War II Austria. Unlike many of his literary countrymen, Handke has been widely translated abroad. He has also had numerous foreign residences that make cameo appearances in his work, giving it a more general European quality than the output of his literary contemporaries in Austria. He is also highly versatile, fluent in all the major genres of literature, including film scriptwriting. He has directed films as well.
   An early participant in the Graz Group, Handke initially followed much of its program. The Hornets (Die Hornissen, 1966) and Sorrow Beyond Dreams (Wunschloses Unglück, 1972) strip rural life of the idyllic qualities found in the typical Austrian version of the genre, the Heimatroman (Eng: homeland romance). Handke specializes in shifting narrative perspectives, random use of language, and fugitive plotlines. Far from the conventions of standard literary realism, these devices deliberately try the patience of a conventional reader. In the play Insulting the Audience (Publikumsbeschimpfung, 1966), he worked consciously and hard to offend and anger those who came to see his piece. What they find are four jeans-clad men who rail for over an hour against the traditional theater and those who attend it. As the author sees it, the four figures are not even actors. Kaspar, first performed in 1967, perhaps best reveals the philosophy of language that underlies much of Handke’s early writing. A famous near-mute in Germany during the first decade of the 19th century, Kaspar is made to show that the constraints of language afflict all of humanity. To learn to speak at all, he must, in Handke’s view, be programmed by others, a situation that can be generalized to mean that all of us are in some way the product of external linguistic manipulation.
   Didactically constructed though it is, Handke’s work often has a deeply personal undertone. Writers’ block, the birth of a daughter, his marital difficulties, and especially the miserable life and suicide of his mother, figure recognizably in some of his texts, such as Sorrow Beyond Dreams. His work since the middle of the 1970s has been more straightforward, inviting comparison with Adalbert Stifter, one of Austria’s most original and highly regarded classical authors. Handke’s technique of getting to the heart of subjects by persuading readers to contemplate the externals he describes rather than to search below surfaces for deeper meaning parallels the aesthetic philosophy of his earlier countryman, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Handke also has a keen ear for the natural prosodic rhythms of German that enables him to turn his otherwise dry narratives into something close to poetry. His use of extended periodic sentences that are almost stripped of verbs adds to the pictorial quality of some of his prose, such as Once More for Thucydides (Noch einmal für Thucydides, 1990).

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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  • Handke, Peter — born Dec. 6, 1942, Griffen, Austria Austrian writer. He studied law before beginning to write seriously. He earned an early reputation as a member of the avant garde with plays such as Offending the Audience (1966), in which actors analyze the… …   Universalium

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  • Handke — (Peter) (né en 1942) écrivain et cinéaste autrichien …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Peter Handke — Infobox Writer name = Peter Handke imagesize = caption = pseudonym = birthname = birthdate = Birth date and age|1942|12|06 birthplace = Griffen, Austria deathdate = deathplace = occupation = Novelist, Playwright nationality = Austrian ethnicity …   Wikipedia

  • peter — peter1 /pee teuhr/, v.i. peter out 1. to diminish gradually and stop; dwindle to nothing: The hot water always peters out in the middle of my shower. 2. to tire; exhaust (usually used as a past participle): I m petered out after that walk. [1805… …   Universalium

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