Peter Handke, the Austrian author who received the Nobel Prize in Literature on Tuesday, said recently that he hated opinions.
“I like literature,” he added, in a bad-tempered exchange during a news conference in Stockholm last week.
Unfortunately for Handke, 77, many people have opinions about him. Some see him as a genius who has pushed the boundaries of what novels and plays can be. But others are far less positive.
Handke has been accused of genocide denial for questioning events during the Balkan wars of the 1990s – including the Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered. He has also been criticized for delivering a eulogy at the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian politician who was tried in The Hague for war crimes.
Since 10 October, when the Swedish Academy named Handke the 2019 laureate, there has been a storm around him.
Sava Stanisic, a Bosnian-German author who fled the war as a child, said in an email that the decision was “a punch in the gut” for the conflict’s victims. It was “an aesthetic and moral failure”, he added.
Even a member of the Swedish Academy, the organisation that chooses the Nobel laureates for literature, has protested. On 5 December, author Peter Englund said he would not participate in any of this year’s events. “This is a matter of conscience for me,” Englund said.
But some literary heavyweights see no better choice. “I can’t think of a more obvious Nobel laureate than him,” Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard said, adding that Handke had written masterpieces in every decade of his career.