Peter Handke


Peter Handke (6 December 1942, Griffen, Austria) is an avant-garde Austrian playwright, novelist, poet and essayist. He is widely considered one of the most original writers in the German-speaking world from the second half of the twentieth century. From 1961 until 1965, Handke studied Law at the University of Graz, writing his first pieces for the avant-garde literary magazine manuskripte. When his first novel Die Hornissen (The Hornets) was published in 1965, he abandoned his studies and became a professional writer. He first attracted attention from the wider public in 1966 for his anti-conventional stage play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience), in which four actors spend an hour analysing the essence of theatre and insulting as well as praising the audience for their acting – provoking mixed reactions. Several more plays lacking conventional plot, dialogue and characters followed. Handke’s first full-length play, Kaspar (1968), received extensive media coverage. It depicts the foundling Kaspar Hauser as a near-speechless innocent destroyed by society’s attempts to impose on him its language and its own rational values. Another of Handke's early plays is Der Ritt über den Bodensee (The Ride Across Lake Constance, 1971). 

Handke's novels are for the most part objective, deadpan accounts of characters who are in extreme states of mind. His best-known novel, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, 1970) is an imaginative thriller about a former football player who commits a pointless murder and then waits for the police to take him into custody. Die linkshändige Frau (The Left-handed Woman, 1976) is a dispassionate account of a young mother coping with the disorientation she feels after she has separated from her husband. In Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, 1972), Handke has recorded his memoirs about his deceased mother, who committed suicide. 

Handke has also written short stories, essays, radio plays and autobiographical works. He won the Georg Büchner Prize in 1973 and the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1987. The dominant theme of his writings is that ordinary language, everyday reality, and their accompanying rational order have a constraining and deadening effect on human beings.