On the 'deadly hook' 

I just have to write another post on Elfriede Jelinek's literature. People are now wondering how the heck it will be possible to accommodate the new interest in translations of her works beyond the Piano Player (Die Klavierspielerin) - most of her literature is deeply grounded in distinctly local uses and abuses of language. Still, as Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, the father figure of Austrian literary criticism said on TV, even Finnegan's Wake has been translated with success.

Personally at the moment I'm obsessed with rendering that 'deadly hook' I mentioned in my previous post, and doing so in my poor English. Here's for an attempt.

First of all, Jelinek has covered a number of topics at length: nature and metaphysics, the body, health-culture, sports, Austrian history. Yet I'll focus only on the gender topic, which is 1. central to her work, 2. maybe the area where she is most radical and original, and 3. the aspect of her literature that I find most interesting.

Lust was a bestseller. Since yesterday I have read at a couple of places that this was because of a misunderstanding on the part of the buyers. Well, Jelinek herself has made it clear she is comfortable with an interpretation of this and other texts as pornography. The supposed misunderstanding consists in reading this short novel with a voyeuristic interest, whereas it allegedly is 'anti-pornography'. Hm, in my opinion if it is pornography, then it's written to be read with a voyeuristic interest, and so I don't buy that 'misunderstanding' story at all. It was a bestseller, and the market is always right (Hi to Michael S.'s comment to yesterday's post at this point).

What Jelinek does in this book is not to negate pornography, or to develop an alternative pornography, but she takes pornography and presents an analysis of its core that looks uglier than her readers ever thought it would. "This is then what your voyeuristic interest is about", she tells the reader, and the imagined reader in Jelinek's text, I believe, is always herself, the artificial media figure of the suffering radical artist. At the most, we, the other readers, are allowed to assume the perspective of this artificial figure, tentatively, and see how much it ressembles ourselves. And, hm, it does, to a point. Because you sit there with that book in hand and stare at the words as objects written by another human being, and that other human being - the artificial author figure - stared at social reality and said, do you see these people staring at others as if the others were objects that exist for the starers' desires only, do you not agree that all there is is text producers and objects they put their words on, always with an agenda to appropriate these objects for their own hideous schemes? These text producers and objectivisers, were they not always men? [Here, presumably, Jelinek is exaggerating real imbalances, but let's continue. The claim is radical philosophy that generates art.] Do I not, as the female author, lay claim with my text on a spot that for these male text producers was always a blind spot? Is not therefore this whole discourse impossible--the female author for once controlling the text and putting it on the spot in a male-dominated universe that does not exist--, which is exactly why this is literature and not reality, and why this artificial media figure must be shown to be suffering?

Maybe the same structure could be established in other areas, such as the Austria-hater obsessed with Austria [Is Jelinek ostracised from Österreich? ;-)], the Viennese cafe-creature writing a drama on sports, the feminist writing on Heidegger, the novelist writing dramas, etc. Her literature is, maybe, an analysis of changes that are desired but impossible, and a search for survival strategies for those who desire the impossible. Whether those changes that are impossible are always desireable is a moral, and often political question, on which each reader can reserve the right to answer himself/herself. Here, whether we want to adopt Jelinek's political worldview or consider it misguided need not affect our judgement on the quality of her literature.

UPDATE: Now it's really enough said from my not so important point of view. Go read the long interview with Elfriede Jelinek [DE] from 1992 in Telepolis.


A very nice insight! I love Elfriede jelinek.

Vaidyanathan Ravi Shankar
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