peter handke

Peter Handke on American Writers

Generously translated and sent by Paul Buchholz.

ZEIT: Do you like American writers?
HANDKE: Not the recent ones.  I’m always thinking again: how wonderful literature would be without all these period-, family- and society-novels.  [Theodor] Fontane could maybe still do that, but today it’s a form of sagging culture.  I translated Walker Percy, The Last Gentlemen and The Moviegoer, that is a great author.  And I love Thomas Wolfe, his novel Look Homeward, Angel.  These books have something lyrical, that is absolutely a part of them.  With Jonathan Franzen for instance it doesn’t appear at all.  He follows a knitting pattern, a scheme.  Philip Roth is in the end only a master of ceremonies.  But reading is an adventure.  In a book, also in a society novel, its seeking movement has to be there in the language.  There is no epic literature without a lyrical element.  But that has completely disappeared from American literature.  There have to be outbreaks, a controlled letting-oneself-go, not this recipe-like writing.  Something has to emit from the author, whether that comes from his being lost or from his pain.  When, with an author, one only sees the making–to avoid the word Mache [style]–that’s not enough.
Craft Notes / 72 Comments
December 15th, 2010 / 2:51 pm

My therapist says I should meet new people: Short Letter, Long Farewell


I sat down on the edge of the bathtub, disconcerted because I had started talking to myself for the first time since I was a child. By talking rather loudly to himself, the child had provided himself with a companion. But here, where I had decided for once to observe rather than participate, I was at a loss to see why I was doing it. I began to giggle and finally, in a fit of exuberance, punched myself in the head so hard that I almost toppled into the bathtub.

Excerpts / 8 Comments
March 16th, 2009 / 8:12 am

Letter From Austria: Peter Handke’s Sorrow and My Own



(The New York Review of Books publishes books that belong in print, but have fallen out of it. Yes, this is a highbrow small press, but they are doing excellent things. Check them out. Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams was first published in translation in 1974 by FSG.)


I am deep in the Austrian Alps of Carinthia, near the borders of Italy and Slovenia, in a province largely full of people who never leave it, a six hour train ride from Vienna, staring out my hotel window to enormous mountains and yards and yards of snow, pine trees, and quaint houses that have not changed in structure for hundreds of years. Handke is from Carinthia, from a town not far from here. My parents and I  see each other once a year because they live in Vienna and we live in New York. Once, I looked out at all the beauty and thought; “All this beauty. Too bad it is full of Austrians.” Other times I look out and try to be happy and grateful. (There are things I like about Austria. I like the food, the Frittatensuppe, the Topfen, the Semmeln, the delicious Austrian pastries, as good as any Italian pastry. I have a weird fetish for the traditional clothes, the Dirndls, the Lederhosen, the felted wool in general. (I grew up wearing that stuff.))


Peter Handke’s mother killed herself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills at the age of fifty-one. He writes:


My mother has been dead for almost seven weeks; I had better get to work before the need to write about her, which I felt so strongly at her funeral, dies away and I fall back into the dull speechlessness with which I reacted to the news of her suicide.


Author Spotlight & Presses / 17 Comments
December 26th, 2008 / 4:35 am