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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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Chapter One: Housewife or Shop Girl? Alienation and (Anti-) Romance in Die Liebhaberinnen 8


• C H A P T E R O N E • Housewife or Shop Girl? Alienation and (Anti-) Romance in Die Liebhaberinnen [paula] is 15 years old. she is now old enough to be allowed to think about what she wants to be one day: housewife or sales assistant. sales assistant or housewife. —Elfriede Jelinek, women as lovers (12) [paula] ist 15 jahre alt. sie ist jetzt alt genug, um sich überlegen zu dürfen, was sie einmal werden möchte: hausfrau oder verkäuferin. verkäuferin oder hausfrau. —Elfriede Jelinek, Die Liebhaberinnen (14) n her book, Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capi- talism, Rosemary Hennessy criticizes what she terms “culture theory in the humanities [which] has emphasized the lan- guage-based construction of consciousness” (212). In particular, Hennessy takes to task the dismissal of the term “alienation” by “poststructuralists” from culture theory. As Hennessy’s critique is so pertinent to my argument in this chapter, I will quote her at some length: This work has been shaped by the presuppositions of poststructuralism, which stresses the radical loss of authenticity (a true or coherent self), not as an effect of capitalism’s alienating management and commodifica- tion of human capacities but of the subject’s entry into a symbolic system of representations where the subject of language is always so to speak “at a loss” because the subject of the enunciation (“I”) is always split from the “self” it refers to. This view dismisses a concept like “alienation” be- cause it connotes either...

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