The Afternoon of a Writer
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
translated by Ralph Mannheim
from the book's cover:
The fear haunting the nameless writer in
Peter Handke’s new novel is the fear of los-
ing contact with language and of not being
able to go on with either his work or his
life. After a morning at his desk—where,
for him, a sentence put to paper is an event
and the surest connection to the world—he
ventures out for a walk.
The writer’s afternoon odyssey takes him
from the center of the unnamed European
city to its outskirts, to a peripheral region
comparable to the fringe of dreams or the
frontiers of language. He is alternately re-
lieved to be out in the world, where the first
snow is falling and the early-December
light is variously reflected, and vexed: in an
outlying bar, a drunk puts the writer, in ef
fect, on trial. What is the business of the
writer? Is there any such business in this
century? Who can claim to be an artist and
to have made a place for himself in the
world? But on this day the writer also has
an appointment with one of his translators.
An older man, he was himself once a writer,
and today is happy precisely because he is
no longer one. A translator, he says, has the
certainty that he is needed.
From Publishers Weekly
This deceptively simple, yet highly challenging and original novella reaffirms Handke's preeminence on the international literary scene. One December afternoon in an unidentified German city, the nameless narrator, a writer, takes a walk and reflects on the perilous presumption of his vocation and his terror at the tenuousness of his contact with inspiration. Each word is a lifeline, conjuring up the world and magically reformulating it. But at the same time, the writer and his text strain at the limits of language and understanding. Believing that the writer is dispossessed in 20th-century culture, the narrator is thrown back upon himself to confront the nullity of his discourse; his youthful faith in his calling has collapsed into disenchantment and fear that by withdrawing from society to write, he has de-legitimized his voice. Yet the narrator concludes with the affirmation to "continue to work the most ephemeral of materials, my breath," without aid or concealment of literature's tired props, thus reassuring Handke's admirers that the author will continue to tax and thrill them with his Mallarmean opacities.
From Library Journal
The day is rich for the anonymous writer who is the protagonist of this book. In the morning he grapples with the Beckettian dilemma, giving shape to nothing with the tissue of delicate language, always aware that the last word may be the end of his ability to express. A page, maybe two, and then comes the giddy reward of an afternoon's walk through the city. Observation and intuition are this writer's tools as he recharges himself with the experience of life. The simplicity of snow and flowers gives way to the complexity of the "Gin Mill" crowd and a confrontation with the Translator. Handke is a strikingly talented Austrian writer who, in this novel, focuses on the process of writing. This pithy text is equally important for writers and readers since its eminently accessible investigation of creativity leads both toward a realization of their common need for experience. While other writers have exhaustingly failed to make clear the intricacies of this delicate creative process, Handke succeeds with stylish simplicity.
- Paul E. Hutchison, Fishermans Paradise, Bellefonte, Pa.
Afternoon of a Writer down below, there wasn’t so much as a plant to be seen, not a dog or a cat quietly sitting there, not even a globe (or rather just one, and two children, hardly more than babies, visible down to the neck, looking at it; profile to profile, quite motionless, they were clutching each other’s hair). The film, so smoothly flowing at first, did more than jump; it broke off. But the voices and sounds aimed at the writer from out of the hubbub could be heard all the more clearly. A
had done since the summer, everything that had given strength to his shoulders during the last hours, had instantly been pro nounced null and void. At first he put the blame on the smoke in the gin mill—it impeded not only his breathing but also his imagining—and went to the toilet, hoping that the coolness, the tiles, and the running water would restore his composure. But there, too, he remained inwardly mute. It was as though his work, an airy castle only a short while before, had never been,
I weeded the garden yesterday” ; or mere outcries on the order of “ I wish I could finally be happy,” or “ I, too, am entitled to a new life”—as if the addressee had known the sender’s whole story for ages. In the first years the writer had carefully read every one of the incoherent sentences and even each of the disjointed words. But as time went on, these scraps of paper had begun to depress him, 7] especially on the not unusual days when they were his only mail. On those days he wished his
twinkling, he grabbed the writer’s note book and covered the still empty pages with a hodge podge of dots and spirals. That done, he stood up and began to dance, executing figures that seemed to follow the choreography of his scribbles. The dancer, graceful even in his staggering and stumbling, had vanished one-two-three into the crowd. Now the writer caught sight at the n^xt table of a man whom he called the “ legislator,” though 69] they had never exchanged a word. The man was younger than
same river,” or, in the original wording of the famous maxim: “You may step into the same river, but other and still other waters will flow past you.” Through the years he had repeated Heraclitus’ words to himself over and over again, very much as believers recite the “ Our Father.” The writer stopped at the crossroads longer than usual. Perhaps because his profession did not im pose a hard-and-fast schedule, he seemed to need an idea to carry him through the most trifling daily movements; the