Elfriede Jelinek

"Erika is such a live wire, such a mercurial thing. Why, she may be running around at this very moment, up to no good. Yet every day, the daughter punctually shows up where she belongs: at home. Mother worries a lot, for the first thing a a proprietor learns, and painfully at that, is: Trust is fine, but control is better." (from The Piano Teacher)

Austrian novelist, poet and playwright, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2004. Elfriede Jelinek's most famous novels include Wonderful, Wonderful Times (1980), The Piano Teacher (1983), and Lust (1989). Due to her themes of dominance and submission she has often been regarded essentially as a feminist writer, although in Jelinek's work women's subordination basically illuminate the relations of power, control, and manipulation in class societies.Elfriede Jelinek was born in the alpine resort of Murzzuschlag, HYIbut she grew up in Vienna. Jelinek's father, Friedrich Jelinek, a chemist, was of Czech-Jewish origin. He died in 1969 in a mental hospital. From 1960 Jelinek studied piano and organ at the famous Music Conservatory. After graduating from high school, she studied at the university theatre and art history. In 1967 Jelinek devoted herself entirely to writing. Her first book, Lisas Schatten (1967), was a collection of poems. Jelinek's early works were written under the influence of the so-called Vienna group, established by the writer H. C. Artmann. In 1974 Jelinek married Gottfried Hungsberg, who worked in several films with German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Between the years 1974 and 1991 she was a member the Austrian Communist Party. Jelinek has been a fierce opponent of the ultrarightist Jorg Haider and his Freedom Party and forbade performances of her plays in Austria in protest after the party joined the govenrnment.

Like Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange (1962), Jelinek took the subject of Die Ausgesperrten (1980, Wonderful, Wonderful Times) from the pointless life of young criminals. The story is set in the late 1950s. In the beginning an attorney is beaten up in a park by four teenagers, the protagonists, not for money, but on principle. "And then: Police! But no one's listening. Anna takes this as a reason to kick him in the balls, since she is against the police on principle, as anarchists always are." Jelinek refers critically to Existentialist philosophy: one of the characters reads Albert Camus's famous novel The Stranger (1942), in which violence, killing a man, becomes a way of escape from meaningless to its amoral hero.

The themes of sex, sadism, and authoritarianism in modern day Austria were further examined in Die Klavierspielerin (1983, The Piano Teacher), partly autobiographical novel about the love-hate relationship of mother and her daughter. In the story Erika Kohut, a piano teacher, lives with her tyrannical Mother (with capital "M") and entangles one of her students in her secret, self-destructive way of life. Jelinek has described Erika as "a phallic woman who appropriates the male right to watch, and therefore pays for it with her life." The film version of the novel, directed by Michael Haneke and starring Isabelle Huppert, won in 2001 three major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. Lust (1989), in which insatiable sexual hunger of a paper plant director is paralleled with capitalistic greed, provoked accusations of pornographic sadism. Jelinek's argument was, that sexual relationships in class societies are power structures.

Jelinek's dramas continue the anti-theater tradition created by Bertolt Brecht, which rejects illusions to create distance between the audience and the actors. "Ich will kein Theater," Jelinek once said. Totenauberg (1991), which premiered in Vienna, dealt with the legacy of the Nazi era through the famous relationship of Martin Heidegger, who joined the Nazi party in 1933, and Hannah Arendt, his student, who was of Jewish origin. In her most acclaimed play of the 1990s, Ein Sportstuck (1998), Jelinek associated sports with mass movements, war, and death. Jelinek has also written an opera libretto for Olga Neuwirth's Lost Highway, based on David Lynch's script and film. Two of her plays, Bambiland, partly inspired by Aeschylus' The Persians, and the sequel, Babel, have dealt with the Iraq war.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Jelinek had received numerous awards, including Heinrich Boll Prize (1986) for her contribution to the German literature, the Buchner Prize (1998), Germany’s most important distinction for letters, and Lessing Prize for Criticism (2004). Jelinek has also translated works by Goethe and Botho Strauss. Confessing the she suffers from a "social phobia", Jelinek decided not attend the Nobel Prize ceremony. She also moved from the house her father bought because its address was too well-known.