She writes about sexuality, violence, mass culture and repressed fascism. In the 1980s and 1990s, author Elfriede Jelinek was the sharp-tongued “inconvenient” moralist, holding a mirror to what she saw as the conservative, fanatic and historically oblivious of her Austrian homeland. With her sarcastic, provocative, sometimes contemptuous style, she has turned half the country against herself. She was often seen as an “angry” citizen who continues to polarize to this day.
After the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Jelinek in 2004, the novelist withdrew from the public. She rarely gives interviews, but that doesn’t mean she just sits and does nothing. Although she won’t appear at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest book fair, her works still have an impact.
Jelinek is not afraid to express himself in his work
She presents her ideas in essays, polemical tirades, obituaries, reflections and, of course, plays and novels. In 2003, she wrote an article for the Viennese newspaper Der Standard entitled “Schreiben müssen” (The need to write), which was a tribute to “the language, which opens everything and closes everything and closes to everything and is itself everything”. With language, which Jelinek considers an “instrument” in the “realm of shaping” of things, she is undeniably a literary brand.
Jelinek says it like that
His thinking often revolves around his role in the world and the relationship of people to each other, often in connection with current events. His new piece, Lärm (Noise), a collage of voices about the COVID-19 pandemic, premiered at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg in early June 2021. It’s a torrent of words about news, explanations, rumors, theories and myths of the conspiracy surrounding the coronavirus. Schwarzwasser (Black Water) is the name of Jelinek’s February 2020 drama, which was written in reference to the “Ibiza Affair”, a political scandal that would bring down part of the Austrian government in 2019.
With his game, Anger, Jelinek responded to the terrorist attack against the Parisian satirical magazine Charlie hebdo in 2015. The drama revolves around the rage of religious fanatics and the anger of supposedly honest citizens. A group of right-wing extremists had stormed the auditorium of the University of Vienna the year before, when Jelinek’s refugee play Die Schutzbefohlenen (Les Suppliants) was performed there. The disruptors shed fake blood and launched leaflets with the slogan “Multikulti tötet” (“Multiculturalism kills”).
Not only in her native country, Elfriede Jelinek has a reputation for being a radical feminist and a provocateur. His texts, even intended for a German-speaking audience, often seem difficult to access. Many compatriots denounce her as a “profaner of art and culture” and denigrate her as a “communist-influenced pornographer”.
Jelinek’s work includes novels, plays, poems, radio plays, essays and screen works. In Austria and Germany, the author – who lives alternately in Vienna and Munich – won great prizes: the Heinrich Böll Prize of the City of Cologne (1986), the Georg Büchner Prize (1988), the Playwright Prize de Mülheim (2002/2004) as well as the Radio Play Prize of the War Blind (2004). The Vienna Stage Association recently awarded Jelinek the Nestroy Prize for Her Lifetime Achievement. Some of his works have been translated into English, such as his book The piano teacher.
A puppet theater made a puppet by Elfriede Jelinek.
The Nobel Prize was a surprise
Jelinek, born October 20, 1946 in Mürzzuschlag in the Styria region of Austria, grew up in Vienna. As a young woman, she faced her own psychological problems and her father’s nervous illness. Her mother forced her to take dance and music lessons to become a child prodigy, as she once wrote. She began to write to escape her mother’s interventionism, she recalled.
The debates around his novels, poems and plays will probably not have left the author unscathed. His first book, Lust, denounced the sexual oppression of women. His 1983 novel Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher), which was later adapted for film, portrays violence in the private sphere. Babel, Die Kinder der Toten oder Stecken, Stab und Stangl of 1995 scandalizes the reaction of the media and politicians to the murders of four Roma from Burgenland. In his refugee drama The suppliants (2014), Jelinek questions the way in which people who have fled their country of origin are treated.
When news arrived from Stockholm in the fall of 2004 about winning its Nobel Prize for Literature, even the Berlin editors of Elfriede Jelinek were surprised. Yet Jelinik refrained from awarding an award; she did not attend the event, although she kept the prize money. Every country, it seems, has the writers it deserves. Austria hosted writing enthusiast Elfriede Jelinek.
This article was translated from German.