Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Elfriede Jelinek: Feminism, Politics and a Gender and Queer Theoretical Perspectivation of Krankheit Oder Moderne Frauen & Ulrike Maria Stuart

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Elfriede Jelinek: Feminism, Politics and a Gender and Queer Theoretical Perspectivation of Krankheit Oder Moderne Frauen & Ulrike Maria Stuart

Article excerpt


Our article will proceed in a twofold way: on the one hand we attempt to introduce the audience more in depth to Elfriede Jelinek's work, extrapolating mainly her style of writing on the basis of the theoretical reflections that underlies her textual production; on the other hand we want to focus on two plays that are interesting and prime examples for her exposure to the question of feminism, genderroles and gender-identifications and the very deconstruction of these complex concepts in the respective texts. Moreover we want to illustrate the whole thematic complex by visual examples of the plays or by sound recordings.

Keywords: Elfriede Jelinek, feminist perspective

1. Introduction

Elfriede Jelinek usually is labeled as 'feminist writer.' However, whereas secondary literature in the 80s deals with Jelinek' s 'feminism' from a contemporary feminist perspective, emphasizing aspects of visibility, awareness and equality with respect to Jelinek's writing the term 'feminist writer' nowadays is used more like a 'standing matter' without any consequences regarding the applied theoretical approaches. It seems that hardly anybody undertakes readings and analyses of Elfriede Jelinek's texts that are based on recent gender- and/or queer theories. In the following article we will try to show that the just mentioned theoretical views and perspectivations turn out to be productive in reading Elfriede Jelinek's complex texts, no matter whether the older texts are concerned, like Krankheit oder Moderne Frauen1 (Sickness or Modern Women), or the more recent ones, like Ulrike Maria Stuart.2

2. Poetics and (Feminist) Politics

Elfriede Jelinek is not only a feminist writer, she is, to the same extent, a deeply political writer. In fact the two aspects cannot be separated from each other. Early in her career, triggered through the contact with the student movement, she shifts from formal-aesthetic problems and language play to content and political impact.3 Already in her first novels, wir sind lockvögel baby\ (1970) or in Michael. Ein Jugendbuch für die Infantilgesellschaft (1972), both having a character of linguistic rebellion and aiming at popular culture, Jelinek draws on Roland Barthes's analysis of myth to reveal how pop cultural forms work as palliatives to oppressed sectors of society by suggesting that all men and women are equal. 4 Culture industry, as Jelinek stresses last but not least out of her Marxist conviction in Die endlose Unschuldigkeit,5 follows a strategy of de-historicizing and depoliticizing in order to make readers, listeners and spectators of all classes feel equal instead of offering them improvements in their material welfare. A concession, however, the ruling class is not willing to make.6

According to Barthes the effect of myth is to transform history into nature, that means, what we think that is naturally given is given through language and discourse at a given moment in time. Thus, the discrepancy between reality and its representation in language is what is concealed by myth. Jelineks primary assumptions in this respect are: "es kann nämlich alles mütös werden [...]." ("everything can become mythicious," as one could try to translate mütös).7 She warns and outlines her guiding principle: "ich spreche von den dingen die sich in den begriffen einnisten" ("I speak of the things that settle down in the concepts," our translation).

Jelinek deconstructs myths insofar as she adopts and amplifies the meaning of the original myth which brings this myth to a halt. That does not lead to an entmystification but rather to a denouncing of the myth through exaggeration. This kind of artificial myth that Jelinek then produces hyperbolises, overacts and perverts the ideological myth and reveals what Roland Barthes calls its 'naivety.'9

However, as already mentioned, textual and political strategies go hand in hand. When she says that "everything can become mythicious,"10 one has to be aware of the fact that this word mütös does not exist in the German language - thus it is also a nice example of one of her stylistic and at the same time political approaches to language, namely creating neologisms, using certain linguistic devices - like suffixes - that mutilate a word and transform it semantically, like in this case the suffix 'ös,' which designates a more negative semantics of a word (like komatös [comatose], maliziös [malicious], porös [porous] etc. …

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