“Never more quiet than when I’m writing”
Telephone interview with Peter Handke after the announcement of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature on 10 October 2019. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
In the interview Peter Handke reflects on his work. He describes a sense of inexplicable freedom on hearing the news, the fact that he feels the need for another metamorphosis and discusses ways in which his writing brings him the most fulfilment.
Peter Handke: Hello.
Adam Smith: Hello, my name is Adam Smith, calling from the website of the Nobel Prize, and I wondered if you’d mind speaking for just a couple of minutes?
PH: I’m so exhausted now. I can’t explain, I can’t explain it.
AS: I heard you speaking on the press conference, speaking to some people with cameras outside your house, I think? You said that the Prize maybe gave you a sense of freedom.
PH: Yes, yes, ja.
AS: Can you explain that?
PH: Ja, I can’t explain it. It was a sensation of freedom I’d never felt before.
AS: That’s very interesting.
PH: Yes, I can’t explain it. Mystical, huh? I think it was not my freedom, it was another freedom, of outside, I don’t know. Completely … freedom in an absurd way.
AS: It sounds as if the effect will take a long time to sink in.
PH: Yes, you are right, ja. Ja.
AS: The committee in their citation talk about the fact that you explore the periphery. Is that where you feel you exist?
PH: Everything is created to be annihilated. It was periphery a long time, and I think I’m … I feel well as a kind of explorer, of the periphery. It’s continuous, but nowadays I feel in my age I have to submit to a kind of metamorphosis I guess, like every writer has to do it, has to commit … has to live it in his life. There was no ideology of periphery. I feel … I felt it my place. And I wanted to tell this to other people.
AS: I suppose that you provide a sort of counterweight to the generally held view?
PH: Ja, this is my nature. But sometimes I live in a general way too – I’m like everyday people. But I’m not … I’m not … I don’t know … I can’t define myself. And I’m really happy about this, that I’m not able to make a definition of, even of my work.
AS: But neverthless people will ask you to all the time.
PH: Sure. I’m afraid, yes.
AS: You have been so productive, and you work in so many genres, you obviously really enjoy the process of writing? What is it that you enjoy most about it? What drives you to do so much?
PH: To dream … before I start to write, the dreaming about the book, about the voyage, about the expedition. And then, then sometimes at the end of the day when I’ve finished the day what I wrote comes back to me like a strange kind of sea. This is a very good feeling. Sometimes writing comes back like, like a vague [French: wave] of … vague of happiness. Sometimes, not always!
AS: Is that what you seek to achieve?
PH: Ja, Ja. To be just … to be just … but you can’t, you can’t order yourself to be just. But after sometimes you realise it was justice, it was just, what you did. After, after you did. Not, not during the processes, not during the action.
AS: Can you say which of your works has given you that feeling to the greatest extent?
PH: Ah … No, I can’t. Sometimes it’s weaker, sometimes … I don’t read my own books, but sometimes if there is a new edition I open it and then I feel this life of a writer was not so hopeless, not so bad.
AS: Do you look at it in the past tense, the life of the writer? Surely …
PH: No, I forget a lot of my sentences. Sometimes readers are telling me about what they read of my books and I don’t remember at all. I’m very astonished sometimes when they are … they make a quotation or citation, and I tell them it’s not … it’s not a game. I tell them it’s really … I don’t remember that I wrote this. I mean in another situation, in another context when I write … but I’m very clear in my head, and quiet. Never more quiet than when I’m writing. When I’m writing I feel … when I’m in the problem, I like problems … when I’m in a rhythmical way in the problem I see before me then I become quiet, so quiet, as I am at no time in everyday life. [Laughs] Excuse me.
AS: It’s very interesting to listen to you describe the process. Thank you so much for talking to me.
PH: Have a nice evening Adam.
AS: Thank you very much, a pleasure to speak to you.
PH: Goodbye, goodbye.
AS: Thank you.
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