Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Recovering Elfriede Jelinek - but for Whom? - Creative Homesickness as a Motor for Cultural Transfer

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Recovering Elfriede Jelinek - but for Whom? - Creative Homesickness as a Motor for Cultural Transfer

Article excerpt

In 2004, Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 'for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power'.1 She has since then continued to expand one of the most prolific and many-faceted oeuvres in contemporary literature by working on a vast variety of issues spanning from the repression of the weak to the fascisms of everyday life in consumerist societies. Through her very particular writing strategies, she has thus persisted in bringing up the painful subjects of the discourse of modernity. Jelinek is one of the most influential playwrights in contemporary German-speaking theatre and she also has a considerable stage impact internationally.2 But only this year have Australian audiences been able to witness the first ever production of Jelinek's work in their country. My staging of three of Jelinek's Princess Dramas (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Jackie) at Red Stitch Actors Theatre in Melbourne (June-July 2011) was part of an ongoing wider research project that aims to 'recover' Jelinek for the English-speaking stage by working on theatrical strategies in order to bridge problems of intercultural transfer in the Austrian writer's plays and, thereby, to fill an assumed 'gap of translation'.

While detailed analysis of a variety of strategies suggested by the above production will form the basis of a forthcoming article, the present discussion provides an insight into the production's key theoretical preparations and, hence, into a process that led to the proposal of a 'poetics of the arriving artist' as a very productive basis for my staging of Jelinek in Australia. It does so by tracing the questioning of the theatre practitioner's first instinct to amend the lack of Jelinek's work on Australian stages against the theoretical background of her literary strategies, on the one hand, and the personal crisis of perception that followed my physical transfer from a 'place of departure' (Germany) to a 'place of arrival' (Australia), on the other. The latter relates to the crisis often provoked in readers/audiences by Jelinek's use of language, concisely described by French scholar and prolific Jelinek translator Yasmin Hoffmann as a 'language crisis', because readers' common understanding of language is undermined and 'their relationship to language [is put] into crisis'.3 Consequently, the present article shows how the destabilising of the uncritically assumed benefits of Jelinek's work for an Australian audience led to a poststructuralist reconception of the metaphor of the 'palimpsest' as an overarching figure of thought that has proven greatly productive for my theatre practice and made a fundamental contribution to the poetics of the whole project. This 'poetics of the arriving artist', moreover, is advocated for as being generally productive within the context of immigration societies like Australia, because it offers alternative operative concepts to the problematic term of 'adaptation' and the related term of 'inter-culturality'.

Far from belittling Elfriede Jelinek's immense contribution to the ways in which one can conceive theatre these days, this personal approach to her work within my process of struggling between creative homesickness and cultural embracement rather aims to take seriously one of the central strategies that her writings appear to feature: decentralisation. In the Derridean sense of endless deferral of meaning, decentralisation is capable of disrupting the violent power relationships contained in (everyday) language and, thus, of engaging in historicising violently all inherent mythologies. In this context, no search for the author's intention can provide a reasonable strategy for dealing with Jelinek's utterly complex work. Nonetheless, dealing with this and other perceived characteristics of her work becomes in itself extremely productive for the theoretical premises of the present project. …

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