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Fritzl, all too nonfictional
June 8, 2008 10:29 AM   Subscribe

The horrifying crimes of Joseph Fritzl shocked Austria and the world. Recently two essays explored Austrian literature in an attempt to understand what cultural conditions could foster such monstrosity. Nicholas Spice, in Up from the Cellar, explores the work of Nobel Prize laureate Elfriede Jelinek and her dissection of male violence. Ritchie Robertson searches for antecedents in Josef Fritzl's fictive forebears. [via The New Yorker's Book Bench]
posted by Kattullus (63 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have heard that Jelinek has been very poorly translated into English, so I have avoided reading her work. Does anyone know of a good translation?
posted by Kattullus at 10:31 AM on June 8, 2008


I have heard that she's not a very good writer, translated or not, so I too have avoided reading her work. Tim Parks says (in a thorough review of her work) "the social criticism she offers seems simplistic, rancorous, and willfully unhelpful, while Greed itself is unreadable: I recall not a single moment of pleasure turning its pages, not a single insight that impressed."
posted by languagehat at 11:04 AM on June 8, 2008


I'm not sure Fritzl has been 'fostered by cultural conditions' in Austria.
posted by jouke at 11:12 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I asked partly because of what Nicholas Spice said in his article:
In Greed, Jelinek finds a way to deal with depth (with the abyss inside the human) without either reverting to the analgesic of realism or exhausting the reader with flood-lit ugliness. For all its derangement, Greed is not ugly. Indeed, once one has got used to it, it yields strange and memorable pleasures. But only if read in German. With its constant shifts of tone and register, the slippery sideways movement of thought through wordplay and punning, the frequent allusions to other German texts, the idiom of Greed poses almost insuperable obstacles to good translation. Jelinek herself took years to translate Gravity’s Rainbow and it would take a comparable labour of love to translate Gier adequately. As it is, doubtless under tight economic constraints, the publishers have paid for a hit-and-miss, standard, ‘by the page’ translation and the result is a disaster. It’s hard to imagine that Jelinek’s reputation in the English-speaking world will ever recover. It would have been better to have left the novel untranslated.
I know all too well that some writers are nigh-on untranslatable, especially those who play with style and register.
posted by Kattullus at 11:12 AM on June 8, 2008


Meanwhile, since escaping captivity on August 23, 2006, Natascha Kampusch has become a millionaire talk show host while working on earning her high school degree.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:22 AM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


LRB article is rather turgid isn't it?

Keeley from Bromley [a pinup girl], like Elisabeth Fritzl, is caught in a room in the male psyche, a place which, like the world below ground in Amstetten, exists outside time.

LOL LRB literary critics. Let's compare the morality of imprisoning a live human being for 24 years with looking at a photograph of a topless girl in the Sun. Never mind the absurdity of the comparison, as long as we get our jabs in at a) the lower classes aka Sun readers, b) pornography-devouring pigs aka men, c) our silly allusion works.

And are we to see these and related forms of behaviour as discrete points on a scale that has Maxim magazine at one end and Josef Fritzl at the other, or do they make up a continuum along which, under the right conditions, we might find ourselves sliding?

Answers on a postcard, masturbators.
posted by dydecker at 11:28 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Spice's essay is brilliant. If there was any hope whatsoever I would be able to grasp it, I would attempt Jelinek forthwith.

‘Im Abseits’ is the performance of a modern sibyl, an agoraphobic Cassandra whose preferred channel of prophecy and admonition, she recently announced, is the internet: www.elfriedejelinek.com is her pillar, her cave, the place apart from which she harangues the multitude.

Emily Dickinson for the End Times.
posted by jamjam at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2008


I'm not sure Fritzl has been 'fostered by cultural conditions' in Austria.

Yeah, I don't really think there's much we can analyze from this. Dude was obviously a psychopath. People get away with being psychopaths because, to the outside world, they often seem kinda normal.

Sorta reminds me of how every time there's a school shooting, people tear their hair out trying to figure out "what could make someone do such a thing?" Sometimes crazy people do crazy shit, and that's all there is to it.

A better question would be, "what can we do to prevent this from happening in the future?" Apparently this Frizl guy was a convicted rapist, but because of peculiarities in the Austrian criminal justice system, his records were purged and nobody thought to follow up on him. So yeah, they might want to work on that.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:38 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do love Tim Parks, but, as Kattullus points out, he seems to have made exactly the mistake Spice cautions against: "Reviewers of Greed have met it at best with polite puzzlement, at worst with disdain. Philip Hensher said it was ‘atrocious’. And he was right – Greed is unreadable. But it is not the same book as Gier. What has also been atrocious has been the failure of anyone reviewing it to go back and read the German." Parks acknowledges at the end of his piece that the difficulties of translation may contribute to his difficulties reading Greed, but it seems likely that he's wildly underestimated those difficulties, and that this may just be one of those books that requires decades, rather than years, to find a decent translator.

I've only read the supposedly-more-straightforward Lust, translated by Michael Hulse (who made his name translating Sebald), and I think it's quite good. Yeah, it's unpleasant and unsettling, but I count those qualities as virtues in a literary landscape that so rarely delivers them with conviction anymore. The frequent ugliness of the style is certainly in tune with the subject matter, if nothing else.
posted by dyoneo at 11:39 AM on June 8, 2008


Has no one linked to elfriedejelinek.com yet?

Spice's review is one of the best critical essays I've read in quite a while, even by the elevated standards of the LRB. Avoiding sensationalism while tying the Fritzl story to a serious discussion of contemporary literature is no mean feat; topping it off with a more serious discussion of Jelinek than the dopey condemnations we usually see (especially in English) is a real achievement. I thought the closing paragraph was the weakest part, with its attempt to wrap everything up with a neat little oversimplified bow ("the normal as monstrous"), but the bulk of the essay was smarter and more thoughtful than I had any right to expect. And I think Spice is completely right to say that the vituperation often aimed Jelinek's way requires serious analysis; I don't know that Handke or Bernhard ever saw this level of consistent condemnation, did they?
posted by RogerB at 12:23 PM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Spice essay is fantastic. For those of you who mock its hair-raising conclusion ("Keeley from Bromley [a pinup girl], like Elisabeth Fritzl, is caught in a room in the male psyche, a place which, like the world below ground in Amstetten, exists outside time"), you weren't paying much attention, were you?
posted by jokeefe at 12:25 PM on June 8, 2008


There's an English translation of her essay about Fritzl, "The Forsaken Place", available on her site.
posted by jokeefe at 12:33 PM on June 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ugh, that's unreadable.
posted by dydecker at 12:42 PM on June 8, 2008


And yeah, I was paying attention. It's just been a long time since I read any literary criticism - I'm a bit saddened they're still foisting Karma Rouge feminism & half-baked psychoanalysis on the unsuspecting.
posted by dydecker at 12:57 PM on June 8, 2008


I'm a bit saddened they're still foisting Karma Rouge feminism & half-baked psychoanalysis on the unsuspecting.

Patronizing, much?

What exactly is Karma Rouge? It sounds like a shade of lipstick.
posted by jokeefe at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2008


Oh, you mean Khmer Rouge? Just a little bit different, I think. Karma Rouge would be like makeup that returns your actions to you in the next life, or something.
posted by jokeefe at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2008


It's just been a long time since I read any literary criticism

You don't say? I never would've known from the depth, maturity, and thoughtfulness of your comments here.

What Spice (let alone Jelinek) actually wrote about sexual exploitation and pornography is a lot more complicated than you seem to want to make it, and doesn't strike me as so easy to disagree with. (Then again, I'm not an axe-grinding antifeminist; maybe you are. I think some of the dynamic of this thread as well as of Jelinek's reviews is just simple political ressentiment, since she is after all a Marxist feminist and this, quite apart from difficult writing, will naturally rub some people the wrong way.) Spice tries to open up some of what Jelinek's essay on Fritzl asks:

are we to see these and related forms of behaviour as discrete points on a scale that has Maxim magazine at one end and Josef Fritzl at the other, or do they make up a continuum along which, under the right conditions, we might find ourselves sliding?

I think it should be clear that Spice meant this as a genuine question, one we might do well to think on rather than pissily retorting that we can't be bothered to give up our precious porn.
posted by RogerB at 1:21 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


RogerB, obviously the answer is no. There is the matter of consent, which puts crimes like Fritzl's in a totally different moral class than fantasies which exist inside people's heads (or on a piece of paper). No matter how much the cultural elite would like it not to be so.
posted by dydecker at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2008


I think it should be clear that Spice meant this as a genuine question, one we might do well to think on rather than pissily retorting that we can't be bothered to give up our precious porn.

Its hardly an original question, and its one many have probably already considered and come to the genuine conclusion that Maxim and its readers aren't in anyway related, however distantly, to an incestuous kidnapper/rapist/psychopath.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Spice essay was compelling and insightful, I thought. I don't know why you took so strongly against it, dydecker, that you had to write three comments about how awful it was. It's well written, and the only thing that might make it a bit of a struggle for some is the length. But that's the joy of the LRB - it gives writers the freedom to explore thoughts in great depth, beyond the 2000-word mark.
posted by WPW at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2008


There is the matter of consent, which puts crimes like Fritzl's in a totally different moral class than fantasies which exist inside people's heads (or on a piece of paper). No matter how much the cultural elite would like it not to be so.

dykecker, you're being far too literal in your interpretation of this. Spice is talking about literature, and the representation of women, and is not trying to construct a moral equivalence between the Sun Page 3 Girl and the crimes of Fritzl. He's talking about the historic and cultural impulse to possess, own, and confine women, either in the imaginations of men or in horrifically manifested action; about the idea of male entitlement to female flesh and the privileging of male desire. He's wondering if the impulse so brutally and sociopathically acted on by Fritzl might, if he looks closely at his own pysche, cause an echo of recognition there. Because what happened to Elizabeth Fritzl has happened and continues to happen all over the world, in culturally modulated forms-- the Saudi Arabian woman who cannot leave the house without male escort or cannot appear in public, the Ukranian women forced into prostitution and held in a house in Britain, and so on. And before you tell me that those situations are different, yes they are, in some respects. But in terms of an absolute loss of freedom, they resonate uncomfortably closely. The ordinary guy who looks at the picture of that girl in the Sun-- available for download!-- experiences at least in part an impulse to possess. That's what Spice is looking at, and that's how you should read that passage.
posted by jokeefe at 1:43 PM on June 8, 2008 [14 favorites]


Or, in other words: There's no such thing as "just a picture".
posted by jokeefe at 1:47 PM on June 8, 2008


The Spice piece is stunningly good. Jokeefe does a good job with it, but the piece out to speak for itself to any reader willing to approach it honestly.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:47 PM on June 8, 2008


Or, in other words: There's no such thing as "just a picture".

Well, there is, so long as no one looks at it.
posted by WPW at 1:48 PM on June 8, 2008


I dunno - i don't like the idea of conflating normal male sexuality (or any sexuality for that matter) with cruelty - I think it's a weak & old idea, and it exists in literary circles much more than in life. There is an assumption running through the essay that "we are all like Fritzl, if only we would face up to it". Well excuuuse me, Mr. Writer, but speak for yourself.

A few days later, he returns to Erika’s mother’s apartment to give Erika what she has ‘asked for’. He beats her up and rapes her.

What is Jalinek's attitude to this in The Piano Teacher? (I haven't read the book, I've only seen the film) Nicholas Spice says at the end of his essay

In Klemmer, Jelinek portrays the normal as monstrous and this is the crime for which, it seems, she cannot be forgiven.

There he goes again, how in the heck is raping someone (even if they ask you to) normal? The answer is this: if you run in literary circles, it is. The whole Marxist/feminist tradition is of seeing male sexuality through the lens of cruelty & force, so it's no biggie for people like Spice to just casually equate rape/forced imprisonment of your daughter with renting a dirty movie, etc

The question ‘Is there any part of this in me?’ must then be shouted down before it is even enunciated. Hence the tabloids scream ‘Sex Beast’ and bay for blood

Oh speak for yourself.
posted by dydecker at 1:49 PM on June 8, 2008


Every time you masturbate, your psyche kills a woman.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:01 PM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


He's wondering if the impulse so brutally and sociopathically acted on by Fritzl might, if he looks closely at his own pysche, cause an echo of recognition there.

Unfairly comparing somebody to a psychopathic Austian. There should be a name for this. Perhaps a law of some sort.....
posted by Afroblanco at 2:15 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


i don't like the idea of conflating normal male sexuality (or any sexuality for that matter) with cruelty
Straw man alert.

The article compares, as distinct from conflating, a particular aspect of male sexuality, the possessive side. I don't see anywhere any identification of consensual heterosexual sex with exploitative cruelty (unlike the "all men are rapists" argument which could have been designed to damage feminism).

And to say they're on the same spectrum doesn't make them morally equivalent, merely literally comparable. All acts of violence can be compared, but any reasonable moral evaluation can tell the ends of that spectrum apart, too, and make many more subtle gradations.

And as for LOL-LIT-CRIT, isn't there a YouTube thread you could contribute to instead?
posted by imperium at 2:21 PM on June 8, 2008


I don't see anywhere any identification of consensual heterosexual sex with exploitative cruelty

Paying for sex with prostitutes is consensual heterosexual sex.
posted by dydecker at 2:33 PM on June 8, 2008


Paying for sex with prostitutes is consensual heterosexual sex.

Now there's a minefield of a comment. Unpacking it would take a while, and I have things to do, but I will just say that your deployment of this comment-- to disagree with the previous statement "I don't see anywhere any identification of consensual heterosexual sex with exploitative cruelty"-- is at best off base.
posted by jokeefe at 2:41 PM on June 8, 2008


Or, in other words: There's no such thing as "just a picture".

Well, there is, so long as no one looks at it.


Uh, not even then. It's created by somebody, after all.
posted by jokeefe at 2:43 PM on June 8, 2008


My point is this: I mean I'm not saying Fritzl is a complete aberration, or incomprehensible, in terms of his psychology. It's pretty easy to figure out: He wanted to control his daughter so she would be sexually available to him. It's not like he wanted to have sex with the Eiffel Tower or whatever. His psychopathy is comprehensible, at least.

In that sense, yes, Spice is right: it’s on the same spectrum of male possessiveness as a still photograph in the Sun, or paying a prostitute, or the other examples in the essay, in terms of these being examples of how males to control access to sex. What I object to is that all of these examples are painted as aberrations and cruelties in this essay, as if the only expression of a normal human trait such as possessiveness was through control and force. BUT there are plenty of examples of how we are all possessive or try to control each other or access sex in life—using charm, or wit, or the institution of marriage for example—which are less cruel, less overtly manipulative, and even sometimes a lot of fun.

Instead, the writer berates us for recognizing a bit of ourselves in Fritzl, without looking right down the other end of the possessiveness continuum, where he might even see himself – then you might get a better essay not just bashing Sun reader but something which doesn’t let himself off the hook. As it is, he’s taken withered up nothingness for virtue
posted by dydecker at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2008


What I object to is that all of these examples are painted as aberrations and cruelties in this essay, as if the only expression of a normal human trait such as possessiveness was through control and force.

Fair enough, but this isn't an essay about feminist political positions-- it's an investigation of a writer whose work has focused, almost exclusively, on sexual violence and human pathology, with a starting point of a recent piece she has written about a particularly horrible crime. "Normal", meaning benign, doesn't really come into play here.
posted by jokeefe at 3:18 PM on June 8, 2008


Or, in other words: There's no such thing as "just a picture".

No offense, jokeefe, but give me a break. Normal people, generally speaking, enjoy looking at naked pictures of whatever they prefer. Normal people do not generally speaking keep people prisoner in their house for decades at a time. Yes, it's on the same 'continuum,' but then again stepping on a cockroach crawling out from under your molding and killing an endangered species for kicks are on the same continuum, too.

My point is, to literally compare the two is ridiculous, needlessly polarizing and a big reason why most academic writing and thoerizing is generally considered wankery but the public at large.
posted by jonmc at 3:37 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jokeefe, if by "possess" you mean "have sex with" I suppose the answer is yes. For those of us who don't see every interaction as some kind of dominance game the whole possess thing seems, at best, a really weird choice of words.

I'm not so sure I'd run with the logic "all acts of violence can be compared". I mean sure, you can do this. J. G. Ballard compared the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy to a downhill motor race. If you are not J. G. Ballard the odds are that no one is going to "get it" and you are going to come across much like thirteen year old skateboarders comparing the police to the Nazis for yelling at them for skateboarding in the busy four lane street.

The other thing you're going to find (and this is a perfect example) is that you are going to often be comparing things that most people won't describe as violence with things that damn near everyone would. I knew a lady I worked with once upon a time who wore her disdain for my twisted idea of fun like a badge of honor, but was comfortable doing her best to inflate every trivial little incident with people she didn't like in hopes to drag down their annual review and maybe get them fired.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:40 PM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I mean I'm not saying Fritzl is a complete aberration, or incomprehensible, in terms of his psychology. It's pretty easy to figure out: He wanted to control his daughter so she would be sexually available to him.

No. No, no, no, no, and no. No. Frizl was a psychopath, pure and simple. A Dahmer. A Gacy. An Albert Fish. And like all psychopaths, he was completely absent the ability to empathize with his victims. This is what allowed him to do what he did.

Y'all can analyze and overanalyze this all you want. But that won't change the fact that Frizl was a psychopath, and as different from you or me as a person can possibly get.

And finally, since I'm on the subject, I'd like to officially announce my irritation with people comparing other people to Frizl. Just because it's not about Hitler doesn't make it any less of a Godwinism.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:53 PM on June 8, 2008


But that won't change the fact that Frizl was a psychopath, and as different from you or me as a person can possibly get.

I don't know if I'd go that far. We all have our ugly thoughts. An asshole customer pisses you off at work and you have a brief mental image of kicking their teeth out of their head, somebody cuts you of in traffic and you think about running them into a ditch, etc. etc. But you're right, it's empathy that reminds us that no matter how much of an asshole somebody might be being at any particular moment, they are still a human being and thus saves us from our worst impulses. The Fritzls of the world posess no such mechanism. We should be figuring out what's behind that malfunction rather than half-baked tehorizing about nudie pictures.
posted by jonmc at 4:05 PM on June 8, 2008


3 books on Fritzl commissioned. Conclusion: "Some questions can only be answered in time. Thus there's reason to think these first three books might not be the last."
posted by dydecker at 4:07 PM on June 8, 2008


Oh for crissakes, this is getting silly. Let's recap: this was a critical investigation of an Austrian writer who has throughout her (controversial) career focused almost exclusively on writing about violent and pathological relationships. She has now weighed in with her thoughts about the Fritzl case, about which she has some things to say to do with Austria and men and women. None of these thoughts fall far from her literary corpus. The essay by Spice reviews her work and interweaves this with talking about Fritzl himself, but only partly. The piece is about Jelinek; the Fritzl case is secondary. The sentences that people seem to be getting up in arms about are at the very end of a long and thoughtful examination of Jelinek's writing. Spice has painstakingly, over several thousand words, built a context within which to read his comments about the Page 3 girl, and that context is *not* the reductive and useless assertion that "Men looking at women equals violence against women" which seems to be all that some of you see, and what some of you (*waves to jon*) think I am arguing for.

I'm not. Okay? I'm saying that sexuality is complicated, that representation is complicated, that it's okay to ask why there is an industry worth many billions of dollars which works to entice and slake male desire (but not female desire). You know? It's okay to ask questions about the way things are and to try and figure out why they are like that, and who benefits, and who makes the money, and who gains social power from it all.

Spice's essay is worth so much more than getting into half-baked arguments about whether or not it's okay to look at naked ladies. And really, that last thing I want to be doing is arguing with those amongst us who have no second thoughts about pornography whatsoever, are happy with the role it plays in their lives, and have nothing more to say about it. Mazeltov! Wank away! But some of us do like to, you know, wonder about what things mean.
posted by jokeefe at 4:23 PM on June 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


You know who else was fostered by the cultural conditions in Austria?

Yeah, that's right

As Kinky Friedman said of Germans -- and in this respect, Austrians are just like Germans on steroids:

"They're my second favorite people in the world, right after everybody else!"
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:27 PM on June 8, 2008


Also, I'm not personally criticizing anyone here who likes porn or the Page 3 girl. There's a bit of defensiveness in the comments which just collapses the discussion into complaint, you know? It's not as if there aren't genres of porn that I like. I've even written some myself. Does that help?
posted by jokeefe at 4:28 PM on June 8, 2008


Austrians are just like Germans on steroids:

You take dot bock...
posted by jonmc at 4:28 PM on June 8, 2008


Spice has painstakingly, over several thousand words, built a context within which to read his comments about the Page 3 girl, and that context is *not* the reductive and useless assertion that "Men looking at women equals violence against women" which seems to be all that some of you see, and what some of you (*waves to jon*) think I am arguing for.

You ever stop to think that maybe he inserts the Page 3 girl comments in there to get attention for essays that would otherwise be read by...pretty much nobody. I know you're not arguing that, but you are smart enough to realize that hyperbole of that sort sets people on edge and buries whatever point might be buried there. Just saying.
posted by jonmc at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2008


Yes, it's on the same 'continuum'...

Actually, stopping to think about things for just a second, it's not on a continuum.

There are two distinct discontinuities: First, there is that pesky little consensuality thing. Second, well, to borrow from someone's stand-up routine, I can hardly imagine Mr. Fritzl spelling out the ABC's until his tongue cramped up because his partner wasn't quite satisfied.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:35 PM on June 8, 2008


why there is an industry worth many billions of dollars which works to entice and slake male desire (but not female desire).

The porn business is nothing if not capitalistic. If enough women would pay for porn, the industry would churn it out and there'd be as many Chippendales as there are FlashDancers, but there aren't. I think that has more to do with female sexuality than it does with any kind of conspiracy.
posted by jonmc at 4:37 PM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, I missed this comment.

He's wondering if the impulse so brutally and sociopathically acted on by Fritzl might, if he looks closely at his own pysche, cause an echo of recognition there.

no, this doesn't happen. I wish he was so brave as to involve himself and talk honestly about sex and desire instead of falling back on puritanical academic theory as an explanation of the world (his last paragraphs are particularly limp & inadequate in this sense). The stuff before it rather unfocused but better because it stuck with the facts.

I should read Jelinek as I suspect I will enjoy it, and likewise I am looking forward to a meaty true crime version of the Fritzl case (somebody should ask Ann Rule to do it) becausethose facts should be out / there is too much speculation at the mo
posted by dydecker at 4:47 PM on June 8, 2008


and the larry and curly too.
posted by jonmc at 4:48 PM on June 8, 2008


Reading reactions to this piece by people who've never read Jelinek and who have a knee-jerk reaction to nearly anything that challenges their views on women (and unsurprisingly don't bother to read on the subject either) is my second favorite thing in the world, behind Austria. Wait, I think I fucked that joke up.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:14 PM on June 8, 2008


where exactly have people expressed their "views on women" in this thread?
posted by dydecker at 5:20 PM on June 8, 2008


There is a world of difference between a page 3 girl and the horrific crimes of Frizl. For one thing, the page 3 girl is consenting, and her appeal is one of a consenting, happy woman. Healthy people do like looking at naked people and reading about sex without feeling the need to possess - indeed, the only posession many would wish to feel is the posession of another person's heart which comes with love between two equal people.

If anyone wanted to talk about pornography and Frizl, it would be better to talk about the genres of incest and rape pornography which do appear with disturbing frequency in textual erotica online. Not that they are dominant forms of textual erotica, just frequent enough to be damned, damned disturbing how frequent they are. Here are the images of coercion and captivity and rape -- and they are deeply disturbing.

But no one would claim they are literature, so they aren't particularly interesting to analyse.

why there is an industry worth many billions of dollars which works to entice and slake male desire (but not female desire).

There is an industry for female desire - it's called the romance genre, and it dominates the books sold at your local grocery store.
posted by jb at 5:25 PM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


For one thing, the page 3 girl is consenting, and her appeal is one of a consenting, happy woman.

Projection. The "appeal" is perceived by the purchaser, but it's not there in the picture per se.

There is an industry for female desire - it's called the romance genre, and it dominates the books sold at your local grocery store.

Which is pure fantasy, and does not involve real human beings. Unlike porn. Also, the objects of desire in romance novels (or their surrogates) are not available for paid sexual encounters. Unlike prostitution.

Oh, I missed this comment.

He's wondering if the impulse so brutally and sociopathically acted on by Fritzl might, if he looks closely at his own pysche, cause an echo of recognition there.

no, this doesn't happen. I wish he was so brave as to involve himself and talk honestly about sex and desire instead of falling back on puritanical academic theory as an explanation of the world (his last paragraphs are particularly limp & inadequate in this sense).


Here:
Our response to stories of extreme sexual violence tends to a mixture of horrified fascination and what in psychoanalysis is called ‘projective identification’, where we cast out the nasty bits of ourselves and lodge them in some other person or thing – a kind of scapegoating. The media turns stories like Amstetten into freak shows, but, unlike a dog with two heads or a parrot that recites the Nicene Creed, Josef Fritzl or Fred West may set the psyche humming in unpleasant ways, especially if we are men. The question ‘Is there any part of this in me?’ must then be shouted down before it is even enunciated.
This discussion is really frustrating. "Puritantical academic theory"? RTFA, please.
posted by jokeefe at 9:55 PM on June 8, 2008


jokeefe, I'm almost sorry you quoted that bit explicitly to those who haven't RTFA. I was quietly enjoying the irony of the article having so perfectly anticipated and described so much of the "I know what's normal, and that's pathological" reaction on display here. Given how little chance there seems to be of salvaging this discussion, that irony was all I had left to enjoy here (besides Spice's excellent article itself, that is). I admire your efforts to improve the course of this thread, but I think that "why bother reading this academic pettifogging, let me just share my indisputably correct opinions with you" has won the day.
posted by RogerB at 10:28 PM on June 8, 2008


Sorry about that, RogerB. Buy you a virtual beer?
posted by jokeefe at 10:46 PM on June 8, 2008


RTFA again yourselves

The critic has got Fritzl backwards: He's saying the only correct response to the case or is for us men to look into our hearts and see that our “normal” selves are merely husk for the seed of pure evil inside.

In fact this is a ridiculous suggestion, and why I call him a puritan: The truth is Fritzl has taken fantasies which are perfectly morally acceptable and domestic behaviour which is perfectly morally reasonable and blown it up into an utterly repugnant & grotesque parody of itself. But that doesn't reflect badly on the "normal" behaviour, just as Dahmer trepanning his victims has nothing to do with the way surgery should be conducted in hospitals.

BTW I read exactly the same point this guy is making in the Daily Mail's coverage of the Fritzl case - this person is not a monster, his psychopathy is an extension of his normalcy. It's really not the big insight he thinks it is
posted by dydecker at 11:43 PM on June 8, 2008


Just one more thing: most of the articles I have read about Fritzl use the case to make cheap political points: Austrian society is like this, the justice system is no good, society has gone to the dogs, etc etc. But everybody is using this case to point the finger at other people, and this article is no different.

How about people stop blaming people and wagging the finger and using this case to feel cheaply morally superior to other people, and let's find out the facts.
posted by dydecker at 12:03 AM on June 9, 2008


All this ink and soul searching or lack there of... wouldn't it be more productive to stop searching the Austrian soul and start searching basements instead?
posted by jadepearl at 7:07 AM on June 9, 2008


Seems like the attacks on the (superb) Spice article can be sorted into two schools of thought:

1. Porn is fantasy, but Fritzl's cellar is reality. Fantasy is harmless. We all have fantasies, and it's not a big deal. There is no relevant "continuum" between fantasy and reality.

2. Fritzl's crime did not resonate significantly with my fantasies. Fritzl is a one-off monster and most men are not like that (except all the other sexual criminals); there is no "continuum" between bad-fantasies (like Fritzl) and acceptable-fantasies (like mine).

I'd suggest the following problems with those positions:

If fantasies (like Page 3) are so morally insignificant, then we can all say, for example, "I fantasise all the time about kidnapping and raping my own daughter and then incinerating the resulting baby" without worrying that people will think we're weird. It's just a fantasy, after all. It's not like any of us has actually done it! If we said it in public, we might suffer a glare from an unenlightened, puritannical LRB contributor, but here on MetaFilter, we're nearly all anonymous, so out with it. Taxicab ConfessionsFilter -- what are our most alarming sexual fantasies? The secret ones, the ones that we're embarrassed to have? Maybe the criminal ones? Maybe you've trained yourself not to need them, but I'd guess that everyone has at least one that they'd rather nobody know about. They don't even need to be sexual. Fritzl has said he fantasised for years about the cellar before he finally made it happen. You've got to wonder how many fathers are just too cowardly (or lacking training as electrical engineers) to live the dream.

(I always laugh when I see web-based discussions about the whore-killing in the GTA series, where people always defend it by saying: "Gamers are grownups, they can distinguish fantasy from reality." Yes, but why are there so many grownups whose fantasy is spree-killing sex workers?)

If fantasies mean nothing, then the only problem with Fritzl is that he carried it out, and there is nothing interesting to learn from the fact that a respectable middle-class chap couldn't stop thinking about kidnapping and fucking his daughter. That's just boys being boys. Doesn't this argument, as a response to an extended discussion of the the Fritzl case, imply pretty strongly that the person making it does to some extent find that their own fantasies "resonate" with Fritzl's, and that they find it necessary to distinguish themselves from him on the grounds of behaviour rather than inclination? Which would, of course, invalidate the second argument.

Finally, jb wrote, regarding incest/rape pornography:

But no one would claim they are literature, so they aren't particularly interesting to analyse.

I seriously despair of this attitude, but I'll deal with it constructively: I hereby claim that violent pornography is literature. Can we analyse it now?
posted by stammer at 9:11 AM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Spice piece was fascinating reading. She (and Musil) are next on my list of things to read in German.

We all heard, in the wake of the Kampusch scandal, voices asking questions like, "what cultural conditions [special to Austria] could foster such a monstrosity?". The intensity has only increased in the wake of the more recent Fritzl scandal.

The first reply to these questions that came to my mind was similar to jouke's or AfroBlanco's -- maybe there's nothing special about Austrian culture that lead to these monstrous events.

Reading Spice's piece and ruminating a little on my own experiences here (in Austria - as a man, admittedly) has made me reconsider my initial knee-jerk reaction.

In my experience and (notedly subjective) opinion, central European (Austria, Italy, Czech, Balkan, etc.) culture has an overt macho or male chauvinistic component that differs in degree and flavor to what I experienced growing up in the Southern U.S.

Bear with me while I generalize a little. I was raised and taught to treat women as "treasures" or "princesses" to be treated with "respect" and to be "protected" (which, I admit, is patronizing / demeaning and not an acceptable substitute for treating women as equals). Here in central Europe, it strikes me that boys and men are treated as princes (by parents, in school, at work), and girls and women are treated as servants whose primary function is to serve the men around them - fathers, brothers, husbands, partners. Women are here to be used and abused at the whims of the men who are a part of their lives.

Again, this is my subjective take on things, and it's composed of two broad generalizations - one based on my upbringing in the U.S. south, and one based on my 8 years living here in Austria. That said, it seems to me that the brand of chauvinism in Central Europe has an overt misogynistic component to it that is either not as present in the US, or at least not as open.

Neither culture is perfect, but the out-in-the-open disdain for and institutionalized discrimination against women in Central Europe seems much more willful and accepted here than it ever was where I grew up. Maybe there really is something special to Austria's culture that fosters these kinds of monstrosities.
posted by syzygy at 9:44 AM on June 9, 2008


BUT there are plenty of examples of how we are all possessive or try to control each other or access sex in life—using charm, or wit, or the institution of marriage for example—which are less cruel, less overtly manipulative, and even sometimes a lot of fun.

Marriage is less overtly manipulative?

Fritzl has said he fantasized for years about the cellar before he finally made it happen.

He fantasized about making the cellar or about fucking/controlling his daughter once the cellar was made? I think the validity of the conclusion is completely dependent upon this and based upon his willingness to put a baby in an incinerator I'm inclined to suspect his fantasy was the former and thus that it has little to do with the page 3 girl.
posted by kigpig at 9:58 AM on June 9, 2008


Just one more thing: most of the articles I have read about Fritzl use the case to make cheap political points: Austrian society is like this, the justice system is no good, society has gone to the dogs, etc etc. But everybody is using this case to point the finger at other people, and this article is no different.

How about people stop blaming people and wagging the finger and using this case to feel cheaply morally superior to other people, and let's find out the facts.


*facepalm*

One more time, dydecker: This isn't an article about Fritzl. It's an article about an Austrian writer named Elfriede Jelinek.

How this turned into (and forgive me for being reductive) a kneejerk defense/dustup about men's perfectly normal and unpathological desire to look at boobies, goddamn it, is kind of confusing to me. Or maybe not.

Remember what Goethe said? That he had never heard of a crime of which he didn't consider himself capable? We should all be so honest with ourselves. And before anyone takes offense, I'm not saying that all men are junior Fritzls in their hearts. But Fritzl and his ilk are part of the human condition, just like women who abuse their children, or any other small tyranny acted out in families or relationships. Jelinek has been writing about this, or aspects of this in Austrian culture, her whole career, which is what makes her thoughts on Fritzl particularly interesting.
posted by jokeefe at 9:59 AM on June 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also, dydecker, you might consider actually reading her essay about Fritzl, instead of just saying "ugh, that's unreadable" as you did earlier in the thread.
posted by jokeefe at 10:03 AM on June 9, 2008


"The critic has got Fritzl backwards: He's saying the only correct response to the case or is for us men to look into our hearts and see that our “normal” selves are merely husk for the seed of pure evil inside."

Care to back that up? I didn't get that sense from the article at all, one that I read as "Life imitates art in these ways, why?"
posted by klangklangston at 10:59 AM on June 9, 2008


stammer, are you an idiot or are you just fucking with us?

People think all kinds of crazy shit all the time. And it doesn't matter one bit, since they never act on those thoughts. That's why we don't have a thought police.

That crazy-ass .0001% of the population that act on these thoughts? Psychopaths, one and all. They have no empathy, no conscience, no mechanism that prevents them from doing awful things. They have a serious mental illness, and they need to be recognized and dealt with and prevented from causing harm to others.

Frizl? A convicted rapist. Had anyone been paying attention, this whole thing could have been prevented. No thought police necessary - just good standard police work.

Anyway, this article (and discussion) is a bunch of beanplating, as far as I can see. Yes, you can make a big deal about the fact that Frizl was a man and that he perpetrated these acts upon a woman and his children. Or you could just see it as a very tragic case of a psychopath doing what psychopaths do best, and getting away with it for a very long time because of a malfunctioning criminal justice system.

Case closed.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:31 AM on June 10, 2008


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