Elfriede Jelinek

Elfriede Jelinek

THE LAUREATE: Elfriede Jelinek was born in Mürzzuschlag, Styria, Austria in 1946. She had a very unfortunate relationship with her mother, who she lived with as an adult. She married in 1974 and she and her husband live in separate cities. Her work was largely unknown outside of Austria before she won the Nobel prize, and, in fact, bemoaned the fact that she is now known around the world. One member of the Swedish Academy actually resigned because the award was given to Jelinek.

WHAT I’M READING: The Piano Teacher.REVIEW: The Piano Teacher is an ugly, brutal novel about abusive family, sexual repression that turns into perversion and violence, and the ultimate emptiness of the bourgeois pursuit of art.

Erika Kohut is 36 and lives with her mother. The basic relationship dynamic between the two can be summed up as “Exactly like Natalie Portman’s with her mother in Black Swan.”* Erika is a cruel and demanding teacher, spending the little time she has outside her mother’s clutches snooping into her students’ lives. Sometimes she goes a sleazy peepshow in the poor part of town. She often cuts herself.

Enter Walter Klemmer, one of her students. He has decided to conquer and possess her, basically for fun. Eventually, he does, and gets most of a blowjob in a girls’ bathroom after a rehearsal. After this, Erika writes down her deepest desires (which she doesn’t even really want) in a letter that cools Klemmer’s ardor. He comes to her house in a furious mood, locks her mother in a room and rapes her

Like I said, this is a very ugly book. Given the bits I’ve read about her life and political views, Jelinek seems to be saying that this is the end result of all relationships in a consumer capitalist society. It’s true that gender relations in reality don’t always meet their rhetorical goals (especially here in the US), and certainly the cult of motherhood and vicariously living through your children are horrible and abusive, but the world isn’t as bad as all that! I promise!

RECOMMENDED: If you need something to read for your neo-Freudian postmodern lit-crit class, this is perfect. Otherwise, I don’t know. I’m not a normally sensitive person when it comes to what I’m reading, but this one seriously messedwith my head. I’m glad I’m done.

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2 comments on “Elfriede Jelinek

  1. symuun says:

    I read Die Liebhaberinnen (Women As Lovers) for university and got about the same feeling out of it. Of course, we’re coming at these books with an extra few decades’ worth of gender politics and social progress (of a kind) behind us, but even so, I think she’s unnecessarily bleak. Capitalism as a source of all social ills was a big theme in postwar German-language art, though. It all went hand in hand with denazification and the Cold War, and of course the Red Army Faction were big fans of the idea…

    • allthenobels says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree. I think Jelinek and her views are necessary for modern feminism the way de Sade was necessary for modern sexuality. Imagine a pendulum- this represents views on whatever topic you happen to be talking about. If the pendulum spends too much time in one extreme – such as sublimating sexual fantasies into creepily specific dreams about Jesus – it takes a really strong shove in the other direction – like writing about whips and chains and BDSM shit – to come to some kind of reasonable central point. And yes, consumer capitalism does have a huge problem with commodifying sex, just like it commodifies everything else. I actually wanted to write about how creepily similar this and the Forsyte book I read are, but I can’t put anything better together than “women = property HULK SMASH”

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