Places: Slow Homecoming

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Langsame Heimkehr, 1979 (The Long Way Around); Die Lehre der Sainte-Victoire, 1980 (The Lesson of Mont-Sainte-Victoire); Kindergeschichte, 1981 (Child Story) (English translation, 1985 as Slow Homecoming); conceived together with the drama Über die Dörfer (beyond the villages), 1981

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical realism

Time of work: Late 1970’s and early 1980’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Alaska

*Alaska. Slow HomecomingNorthern wilderness country where Sorger, a deeply alienated person seeking some kind of personal salvation or healing, is conducting geological surveys. In a clearly existential quest to find forms or patterns that will guide or give meaning to his life, he sketches the landscape. His sketching–making marks on paper with a pencil–becomes a literary symbol for author Peter Handke’s own philosophically self-conscious (and yet highly personal) activity of writing: the imaginative creation of aesthetic forms by which can he can somehow orient his own existence.

For Handke, the fictional images of otherness that human beings generate in and through language (and the human imagination)–artistic visions not of what is but of what might possibly be–circumscribe the domain of human freedom in that they establish a world in which choice is possible. Sorger hopes that his clearly mystical sketches of the vast geological forces at work in the Alaskan wilderness may yield some kind of inner natural law by which he can know himself, a “geology,” as it were, of his own soul. He comes to realize, however, that his union with the natural forms of the wilderness landscape is dangerously egocentric and that he must slowly begin his return to both his child and his native home in Europe.

*San Francisco Bay Area

*San Francisco Bay Area. Northern California region visited by Sorger after he leaves Alaska. The natural landscape unspoiled by human contact in Alaska gives way to the inhabited landscapes of the Berkeley area, and the latter serve to illustrate the importance and the reality of human relationships and community. The European married couple Sorger meets in the Berkeley area show him the meaning of caring for others, and he is forced to contemplate the self-centeredness of his mystical vision of nature in Alaska. Handke seems to suggest that his own philosophical self-absorption in his solitary, “ivory-tower” world of literature represents a personal dead end in his own journey toward self-understanding and spiritual healing. It is also in Northern California that Sorger sees the power of the earthquakes that have upended the landscape there and compares them in his sketches to the frequent shocks or jolts to his own consciousness that he has experienced throughout his life. He again undergoes a similar dislocation in the Bay Area. He loses all sense of spatial orientation and becomes speechless, the loss of language being a singular moment, a nadir of the personality in Handke’s fiction, when the existential self is utterly sundered from the world. He again affirms the power of his writing to establish some kind of connection and orientation to existence. For Handke, language is the primary point of connection between consciousness and the world. As literary or imaginative language, it becomes the major source of personal liberation.


*Denver. Capital and chief city of Colorado where Sorger goes to see an old friend, an Austrian ski instructor, whom he learns has died. This discovery becomes the occasion for his reflections on loss and separation and for his memories, namely those of his brother and sister in Austria. It is in Denver that he firmly decides to return home. He regains here his sense of spatial orientation and continues to seek some kind of spiritual law or guideline by which he can live his life, and he believes this law can be found in the fictions and images, a language of aesthetic forms, generated by the creative imagination.

*New York City

*New York City. Sorger’s last stop before his flight back to Europe, where his process of healing continues as he meets a countryman named Esch, a stranger whom he had encountered on the plane, in a Manhattan coffee shop. As Esch talks, Sorger realizes the power of narration, the simple telling of a story, as a means of creating coherence and unity–a sense of form–out of the chaos of his own myriad experiences. The densely populated urban landscape of New York with its buildings and crowds serves as the symbolic counterpoint to the isolation of the Alaskan wilderness with its natural forms; as such, it represents Sorger’s reintegration into human society.

BibliographyBooklist. LXXXI, June 1, 1985, p. 1370.Choice. XXXIII, September, 1985, p. 122.Firda, Richard Arthur. Peter Handke. New York: Twayne, 1993. Covers Handke’s work through the tetralogy (chapter 5) and beyond. Annotated bibliography.Kirkus Reviews. LIII, March 15, 1985, p. 237.Klinkowitz, Jerome, and James Knowlton. Peter Handke and the Postmodern Transformation: The Goalie’s Journey Home. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983. Places Handke’s work in the context of postmodern literature. Useful for understanding the themes of postmodern literature.Library Journal. CX, June 15, 1985, p. 72.Los Angeles Times. May 22, 1985, V, p. 18.Modern Fiction Studies 36, no. 3 (Autumn, 1990). Provides different perspectives on Slow Homecoming. Hugo Caviola’s article is especially informative.The New Republic. CXCII, June 17, 1985, p. 31.New Statesman. CX, August 2, 1985, p. 28.The New York Times Book Review. XC, August 4, 1985, p. 11.Publishers Weekly. CCXXVII, April 19, 1985, p. 69.Schlueter, June, ed. The Plays and Novels of Peter Handke. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981. Provides an overview of Handke’s work up to 1981. Includes an interview with Handke.Washington Post Book World. XV, July 28, 1985, p. 6.Wesche, Ulrich. “Peter Handke, Walker Percy, and the End of Modernity.” Essays in Literature 19, no. 2 (Fall, 1992): 291-297. Establishes a link between the philosophies of Handke and Percy (two of whose books Handke has translated into German). Addresses the postmodernist crisis in language and Handke’s desire for the transparency of words.
Categories: Places