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«Obscene Fantasies»

Elfriede Jelinek’s Generic Perversions


Brenda Bethman

This book examines Elfriede Jelinek’s investigation of Austria’s and Western Europe’s «obscene fantasies» through her «perversion» of generic forms in three of her best-known texts ( Die Liebhaberinnen, Lust, and Die Klavierspielerin). Each chapter investigates a central psychoanalytic concept (alienation, jouissance, perversion, and sublimation) and reads a Jelinek text in relation to the genre that it is perverting, exposing the «obscene fantasies» that lie at its heart. This book argues that the disruption of genres is one of Jelinek’s most significant literary contributions, with her works functioning to create a «negative aesthetics» as opposed to a positive reworking of generic forms.


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Introduction 1


Introduction n April 2008, world news was dominated by headlines concern- ing the Fritzl Case. It emerged that Josef Fritzl of Amstetten in the province of Lower Austria had been holding his daugh- ter captive in their basement for 24 years (beginning in 1984) and had fathered seven children with her (for more details on the Fritzl case, see Jüttner). In the wake of the scandal, speculation also cen- tered around Fritzl’s wife, whose claim of having known nothing many related to the Austrians’ collective failure to “know nothing” about what the Nazis were doing in the 1930s and 1940s. As Aus- trian novelist Josef Haslinger pointed out to The Australian: “There is this pretty, shiny surface that Austrians like to show, but it hides a monstrosity…On the surface we have moral standards and enlightened policies, but in the background we have this per- verse world that nobody wants to talk about” (Campbell). It is precisely this “perverse world,” or what Slavoj Žižek iden- tifies as Austria’s “obscene fantasies,” that the work of Elfriede Jelinek investigates. As Žižek puts it: For decades, Jelinek was uncompromisingly describing the violence of men against women in all its modalities, including women’s own libidinal complicity in their victimization. Without mercy, she was bringing to light obscene fantasies that underlie the Middle European respectability, fantasies which crawled into public space in the Fritzl affair which effec- tively has the unreality of a ‘bad’ fairy tale (Žižek; see also Robertson, for...

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