The Weight of the World by Peter Handke

From the pages of Peter’s Handke’s The Weight of the World appear a isolated narrator, with fears that some of us probably share. A loose structure carries us forward through one or more difficult relationships, a separation, a suspected heart attack, the fear of death, and the anxiety of raising a child. Though there is no narrative, by the end of the November 1975 to March 1977 period there is a sense of redemption, of coming to a close of one demanding period: ‘Last night: so happy that I lost all sense of place.A feeling no longer of omnipotence but oneness with the world’.

The collection of overheard conversations, dreams, banalities and attentive observations eventually coalesce into twin themes: a fear of love, and separation from others: ‘Which is worse: anxiety or people?’, or the Other as Sartre would have it. This next sentence is not from Handke (it is vintage Russell) but I suspect it would meet his approval:

Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives.

Being an assemblage of aphorisms and fragments, it is tempting to sample at length, but I shall indulge the temptation just once more with a single moving anecdote:

The old man in the shop today, who wanted to buy salt. They were out of the small-size box he usually bought, so he took a large one, remarking that the small box had lasted him three years. Eerie silence in the shop. Everyone realised that the old man had just bought his last box of salt.

Though the narrator’s anxiety is his own, the power lies in Handke’s observing and attending those sentiments and thoughts that usually go unvoiced.

3 thoughts on “The Weight of the World by Peter Handke

  1. >I've had Handke on my list as an author I should look into for some time now, but these excerpts you've sampled here are just beautiful. Just ordered the book.

  2. >Wonderful, Michelle, you won't be disappointed. I've just begun Handke's Across and have that tingle between the shoulder blades that promises so much. For some reason, Rilke is the writer Handke brings to mind; I need to give that comparison some thought.

  3. Pingback: A Year in Reading: 2011 « Time's Flow Stemmed

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