TAMPERING WITH THE RECKONING TO COME

Virulent episodic reversions to bestiality interspersed with interludes of wanton destruction. The threat of loss is preponderant.The  sad films and melancholy literature case is probably overstated. Often detested and reviled. A repulsion by the normal. Elfriede Jelinek is the author of the the gruesome and beautiful , such as The Piano Teacher, and is a Nobel laureate. What is it in human nature, that has made such an appalling mess of our history and future prospects? Nature has let us down, and God seems to have left the receiver off the hook, and Jelinek is responsible for recording   long , idiosyncratic messages on its answering machine.

Scene from Play, Rechnitz, 2008, Elfriede Jelinek, playwright

Scene from Play, Rechnitz, 2008, Elfriede Jelinek, playwright

Conservative critics call her pathologically hateful, twisted and perverse. A memeber of the Swedish academy resigned in protest after she was awarded the Nobel. There goes the neighborhood.Due to her themes of dominance and submission she has often been regarded essentially as a feminist writer, although in Jelinek’s work women’s subordination basically illuminates the relations of power, control, and manipulation in class societies. She can properly be regarded as following in the radical tradition of artistic dissent.An articulation of the grotesque error in human construction that deprive homo-sapiens of their survival value. Much like Kafka, in Metamorphosis and his overturned bug as a symbol of the human predicament. Jelinek does not engage in preaching sweet reason to the inherently unreasonable. This is a fairly hopeless task.

Elfriede Jelinek

Elfriede Jelinek

”Days before this year’s literature prize announcement, a member of the Swedish Academy, which gives the award, resigned in disgust over last year’s unexpected winner, Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek.  … .That member, Knut Ahnlund, sent a missive to the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. He characterized Jelinek’s work as ”whining, unenjoyable public pornography” and said her prize ”has not only been an irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it has also confused the general view of literature as an art.”In his letter to the newspaper yesterday, Ahnlund characterized Jelinek’s writing as ”a mass of text shoveled together, without artistic structure.” Perhaps the honorable member from Malmo By the Lake should tell the house what he considers to be enjoyable public pornography.

Jelinek, Steckem Stab Und Stangl, 2009

Jelinek, Steckem Stab Und Stangl, 2009

The controversy may in part, be based on the prudish concerns about the sex drives of her female characters. The world is non-linear, irrational and subject to emotional bubbles and crashes, often inexplicably driven over a cliff by profound base desires whose underpinnings are murky and not easily understood. Human nature is a composite and not all the parts like each other in a forced union. Jelinek’s work straddles the semi or partial autobiographical fiction line,  that subverts all rationale for an understandable and desireable world, a comforting world. Her victims are not necessarily innocent, the concept of innocence is challenged, and numerous conceptual barriers block the road to surpassing their failings.

Jelinek’s work reveals the absurdity of society’s cliches and their subjugating power. These cliches restrain and contain, yet may ultimately augment the pathologies of destruction by relegating and nurturing the more base dynamic of brutality and power inherent in most human relations. Her descriptive elements of moral failings returns to a resume of violence as a byproduct of power and aggression as the principal driving force of relationships.The themes of sex, sadism, and authoritarianism in modern day Austria were eloquently and incisively examined in  The Piano Teacher), a partly, which part whodunit autobiographical novel about the love-hate relationship of mother and daughter. In the story, Erika Kohut, a piano teacher, lives with her tyrannical Mother and seduces one of her students, Walter, into her secret, manipulative and self-destructive way of life. Walter rapes her and she returns to her mother, unable to kill Walter or commit suicide, paralyzed by the experience and even more emotionally frozen than before.

Anna Wallander, Prinsessdramer

Anna Wallander, Prinsessdramer

Jelenik’s world is a tale of two Austria’s. Both connected, yet equally flawed.One outright tragic, one simply farcical,and equally dangerous.   This  is a repressed society, with hidden crimes, managed through camouflage and repression. Thus, part of her work is an inquiry into her country’s forces of amnesia and apparent normalization. Forces which conceal insidious forces of imperialism and racism beneath the wholesome public veneer of clean and wholesome sanity; old ghosts, restless, tormented poltergeists and apparitions rubbing shoulders with idealized notions of a just and open society. The old lice infested prejudices are simply repackaged in new and less visible form. Something akin to Aldous Huxley’s haunting fear coming to pass of an entire society as a sort of painless concentration camp of the mind, in which people will have lost their liberties in the enjoyment of a dictatorship without tears.

Jelinek, Die Kontrakte des Kaufmann's

Jelinek, Die Kontrakte des Kaufmann's

For Jelinek, democratic principles live alongside exclusionary discourses that recall the pre-war era.  Its a contaminated liberalism. Call it Weimar II, the sequel. Its a rally thats got legs,and lots of rhetoric and hype, but with Jelinek, one has the pessimistic impression it won’t cross the finish line.This cultural amnesia is similar to Freud’s concept of the symptom, which involved a simultaneous expression of an illness and an even more ardent attempt to deny the  existence of the sickness. The patient was put into a coma, only to be awakened as in a fairy tale and fed a diet of cultural amnesia needed to sustain and manage the illness, namely the blind nationalism that triggered the break-up of the Hapsburg empire.jelinek7

The other Austria is a surreal artistic projection involving a faithful exaggeration of Austria. Like Stephen Leacock‘s Sunshine Sketches  of a Little Town ( 1912 )on mescaline, or William Saroyan’s,  The Human Comedy on LSD25. Its an imaginary world that exceeds the everyday reality, but a necessary element in regarding Austria as a fertile cultural background, through the use of comically grotesque stories of mediocre Austrian characters circling through meaningless lives. The result is an unmasking of the language of everyday mythmaking.

Jelinek does not attempt to find a cure for the sympton, but rather engage the sympton in its nevrosities in all their splendour and pageantry. Its a therapy without end. A long running soap opera with a lifetime contract that comes with a lifetime guarantee to never untangle itself..For Jelnek, Austria and its central role in the European tragedy of the holocaust is an ongoing story not resolved. Its not over or dead. Simply resting and catching its breath. The violent discourses of the past, the fevered reactionary reflex, has been displaced into more acceptable forms of social, economic, and cultural discrimination, thereby domesticating it so as to fly under the radar of critical examination. The beast is far from emasculated. Its just biding its time and reflects Jelenik’s view of a dubious future where progress is decidedly non-linear and meandering in the wilderness waiting to be devoured by wolves.

Jelinek, Ulrike Maria Stuart

Jelinek, Ulrike Maria Stuart

The  overriding  tension in Jelinek’s political narrative is derived from the interplay of two central and competing themes. The Martin Heidegger discourse of belonging, and its concomitant tribalism and sentimental romanticisms and extollations of primitive ”instinct” ; also called senility induced by blood sucking and intellectual stagnation in its higher forms.Homogenization with superficial individuality.  The flesh/blood and soil trio, laundry with its whitest whites, opposed to Hannah Arendt’s anti-nativist view involving uprootedness, exile and migration. Heidegger joined the Nazi party in 1933, and concluded the war effort on the home front, digging anti-tank ditches on the Rhine in an involuntary capacity; his purist theories of Naziism and its finer points somehow escaping the intellectual level of the Nazi bureaucracy . Arendt is perhaps Heideggers’s most famous student. Jelinek mines the superficial illusion of belonging, in contrast to the xenephobic and homogenous leanings of the native majority and its frequent recourse to the same storylines of its reactionary past.

Arthur Koestler once asked the question: Is man’s brain an evolutionary mistake? the theory being that nature has provided man with three brains: one reptilian,one lower mammalian, and his own higher mammalian brain- but none get along with each other.Koestler argued we must teach them how before the conflict leads to genosuicide. He maintains that the human brain is a victim of schizophysiology, an evolutionary defect that, if not cured promptly, threatens the very survival of the human species. With regard to the biblical story of Abrahams willingness to stab and burn his son:

” We all disapprove of cutting a child’s throat for personal motives; the question is why so many for so long approved of the insane gesture of Abraham. Or why we accepted so much else that is savage and irrational. If we look without blinders at the history of the human race, we must recognize that a paranoid streak runs unbroken from the blood sacrifices of almost all prehistoric cultures to the mass exterminations of the twentieth century.” ( The Ghost in the Machine, Arthur Koestler )

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