Tuesday 29 April 2008

Jelinek: clear sightedness

Because of the Austrian scandal, I've spent the morning re-reading commentaries on Elfriede Jelinek, the controversial 2004 Austrian Nobel Prize winner (Literature).

Josef Fritzl lived out exactly what she portrays in her books - the domination of women in Austria, controlled, over-powered and objectified by men. Jelinek is vilified in her home country for her books and plays. It seems however that she sees clearly.

This is the second case revealed in Austria. Therefore it is likely, statistically speaking, that more women are subjugated and living incarcerated lives in Austria - and probably elsewhere. In Fritzl's case alone, he dominated his wife just as he subjugated his daughter: it is logically impossible that his wife would not have known something, despite her denials.

Elfriede Jelinek portrays a relationship of domination and possession in ways that have been described as pornographic, but I would call explicit, aiming to horrify rather than titillate. The energy sustaining her writing stems from rage and contempt rather than lasciviousness. She links this domination of women to fascist attitudes which are still prevalent in Austria, vide Jorge Heider's fascist party success. While his party was in government, she banned the performance of her plays in Austria.

Which is not to say that all Austria is fascist. All Austria is not fascist, but fascism is more openly acceptable there than in other countries. Fascism and the mistreatment of women exist everywhere. Austria is in the limelight at the moment.

Many of Jelinek's works have been translated into English: Lust (translated by Michael Hulse, 1992, Serpent's Tail, NY) is available from Wellington Public Library.

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