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English, Handke Peter, Literature

Handke, the enfant terrible of the European avant-garde

Peter Handke by Serge Picaud

Peter Handke by Serge Picaud

Peter Handke

Peter Handke (born in 1942), often regarded to be the best contemporary writer from Austria, became famous in 1966, when he insulted the artists of the “Gruppe 47” and published the “Publikumsbeschimpfung” (“Offending the Audience”), a play that abandons the distinction between actors and audience and in which the actors insult and mock the audience. In his play “Kaspar”, the Austrian criticism of language comes up once again: A speechless boy is found in the woods and through the teaching of language, pressed into a social and cultural frame.

Through other important texts like “Die Angst des Tormannes vorm Elfmeter” (“The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick”) or the biographical“Wunschloses Unglück” (“A Sorrow beyond Dreams. A life story”, dealing with his mother’s suicide), Handke earns himself an international reputation as an outstanding literary figure. Privately, he acts arrogantly and selfishly, insults journalists, colleagues and everybody disagreeing with him.

In recent years, he was noted mostly for his undifferentiated pro-Serbian view on the Nato’s war on Yugoslavia and his support for the criminals of war such as the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. When Elfriede Jelinek (see below) got the Nobel prize for literature in 2003, she said that Handke would have deserved it more than her (and I agree).

“Handke became the enfant terrible of the European avant-garde, denouncing all social, psychological and historical categories of experience as species of linguistic fraud. But [he] has aged well and now…is regarded as one of the most important writers in German.”

— The New York Times on Peter Handke

Song of Childhood By Peter Handke

statement vimeo 1080p from Nationaltheatret on Vimeo.


This video statement was given by Peter Handke in his home outside of Paris upon being awarded the 2014 International Ibsen Award.

The International Ibsen Award, the world’s leading theatre award, is awarded to individuals or institutions that have made a significant contribution to the development of theatre as an art form. The winner receives NOK 2.5 million.

Peter Handke was born in Kärnten, studied law at the University of Graz from 1961 to 1965, but broke off his studies when his first novel manuscript was accepted in 1965 (Die Hornissen, 1966). In the same year, the legendary play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience) was put on in Frankfurt, directed by Claus Peymann. He has since published more than thirty novels and works of prose, and has written a number of plays and screenplays, including the screenplay for Wim Wenders’ well-known, award winning Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire or The Sky Above Berlin, 1987). He has won a number of international awards for his literary work and is regarded today as one of the great names of European literature. Handke lives in Chaville outside Paris.


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