Congratulations to Austria
October 7, 2004 4:10 AM   Subscribe

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2004: Elfriede Jelinek, probably best known for the story behind Michael Haneke's La Pianiste.
posted by mr.marx (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
La Pianiste rocks my world!
I am actually working on a Haneke mega-post, even if I think dobbs should be the one to post about this awesome director
anybody here familiair with Jelinek's work? shamefully, I am not.
posted by matteo at 4:18 AM on October 7, 2004

shamefully, I am not.

Regretfully, I am.
posted by NekulturnY at 5:30 AM on October 7, 2004

I think the Nobel Prize, when it's intelligently awarded, performs a useful function when it shames us to get round to reading interesting authors that we've *cough* always meant to explore.

I have an even more shameful confession. I adore the work of Thomas Bernhard and Peter Handke but they've both managed to put me completely off the idea of one day visiting Austria. Throw in Jelinek and they're like a massive Anti-Austrian Tourist Board.

I know it's childish and unwarranted but I find it very difficult not to suspect there must be something wrong with contemporary Austria to so violently and thoroughly piss off its finest writers. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:40 AM on October 7, 2004

I adore the work of Thomas Bernhard

When NPR started their reveal with "Austrian writer and playwright" my first reaction was "Huh? Bernhard's dead isn't he?"
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:17 AM on October 7, 2004

And then there's Jonathan Carroll who makes me want to visit Vienna.
posted by wobh at 6:24 AM on October 7, 2004

I'm with you, Matteo. I'd like to be more familiar with her work but haven't yet made the effort.
posted by shoepal at 6:28 AM on October 7, 2004

Vienna leaves me verklempt every time I visit.

Miguel, how can one possibly like Bernhard and Handke? I love the former, can't stand the latter. it's usually either/or with the two of them

posted by matteo at 7:13 AM on October 7, 2004

By "best known for the story behind Michael Haneke's La Pianiste" you mean, of course, "unknown even though she wrote the story &c" -- unless you're under the impression that people interested in the movie check to see who wrote whatever story is behind it, which I suspect is a very rare phenomenon. I, at any rate, had never heard of her, and will probably never get around to reading her (my good intentions with regard to Vicente Aleixandre have gone unfulfilled after 27 years), but good for her, I guess. At least they didn't give it to (shudder) Joyce Carol Oates.

Miguel likes everybody, you know that!
posted by languagehat at 7:28 AM on October 7, 2004

*With apologies to others for going personal and off-topic*

Miguel, how can one possibly like Bernhard and Handke? I love the former, can't stand the latter. it's usually either/or with the two of them. [Matteo]

Miguel likes everybody, you know that! [languagehat]


Actually - though it's true I tend to like proper human beings, I find it very difficult not to hate writers in general. There are very, very few writers I admire and, as it happens *name-dropping alert!* it was my favourite writer of all time, Samuel Beckett (who kindly helped me translate, over the years, several of his plays and stories into Portuguese) who put me on to Handke.

At the risk of sounding hoity-toity and pseudish, they're both superb stylists; both entirely involved with the often distasteful and untruthful mess of work which is writing and, although their books are starkly different, they're both truly great and original writers.

Bernhard may be much easier to read - though I would dispute that, in the richest sense. It's true it's an effort not to continue reading his books until the last page, not only because of the captivating fluidity and musical rhythm (repetition/modulation) but because his usual register comes across as profoundly sincere and "just written", leading the reader to fear that, if he puts the book down, the words may not be there the next day. An exaggeration, sure, but close to the dizzy, rant-like, frantic experience.

Handke is non-torrential, a parer, a whittler-down - not, of course, as accomplished (or funny!) as Beckett, but still a master. His prose is like poisoned spring water - cool and bitter. What's not to admire?

For technical reasons alone - although you'd have to be a zombie to notice first-hand - his work is magnificent.

Hey, passion comes in many forms and formal beauty is its best servant.

P.S. I have written this comment in shitty, cliché-ridden prose on purpose.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:37 AM on October 7, 2004

The Nobel Committee has a point that they are trying to make. Modernist play with language, difficult, poeticized prose have been losing favor.

I have a snobby guilty pleasure-- laughing at pretentious Amazon reviews. I don't have an opinion on Jelinek, but this one made me smirk. It just sounds like a 9th grade book report... I read this really gay book and didn't like any of the characters and think that Harry Potter is better....
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:25 AM on October 7, 2004

Miguel: I adore the work of Thomas Bernhard and Peter Handke but they've both managed to put me completely off the idea of one day visiting Austria. Throw in Jelinek and they're like a massive Anti-Austrian Tourist Board.

I know it's childish and unwarranted but I find it very difficult not to suspect there must be something wrong with contemporary Austria to so violently and thoroughly piss off its finest writers.

Well, whatever it is, it isn't just contemporary Austria. Authors like Karl Kraus and Robert Musil spent most of their lives criticizing their home town. What's with Vienna?
posted by Termite at 10:04 AM on October 7, 2004

Miguel again: Samuel Beckett (who kindly helped me translate, over the years, several of his plays and stories into Portuguese)...

Tell us about it! You're not the only one who likes Beckett...
posted by Termite at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2004

Thanks for the news, been meaning to check out Jelinek's work. This should make some of it easier to find in english.

matteo, you'll make a better Haneke post than I ever could. He's my fave director and I've seen everything, but I suck about writing about things like that. I'm looking forward to your post.

By "best known for the story behind Michael Haneke's La Pianiste" you mean, of course, "unknown even though she wrote the story &c"

Actually, any Haneke fan might have been made curious about the book because he made mention of it and the author in most of his interviews. The book had come to his attention about a 15 years prior to making the film (5 years after it had come out) and wanted to do it then but the author refused, wanting to adapt it herself. Another producer (5 years after that) got the rights and asked Haneke to write and was going to hand it to another director (my memory fails me but I think it was Paulus Manker, who Haneke wrote The Moor's Head for). The producer couldn't get financing and then lost the rights and Haneke was then able to pick it up. That's from memory so don't hold me to it but he did tell the story in a number of interviews, which made me, at least, curious about the book, though I never did see it in a store.
posted by dobbs at 10:18 AM on October 7, 2004

AFP is reporting she won't be in Stockholm on Dec 10, due to agoraphobia and panic attacks.

456 links and 3513 comments to MetaFilter
and 136 threads and 2618 comments to MetaTalk
and 39 questions and 161 answers to Ask MetaFilter

and you never found the fucking time to tell us ALL ABOUT YOUR CONVERSATIONS WITH BECKETT!!!!!!!!

you are such a tease

ps dobbs: thanks, but still you're the Haneke scholar around here
posted by matteo at 10:56 AM on October 7, 2004

Miguel: I withdraw my slanderous accusations of universal love and join the general demand that you tell us ALL ABOUT YOUR CONVERSATIONS WITH BECKETT!

Were there lots of painful silences?
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on October 7, 2004

Another new author to explore--yay! (i haven't been let down yet by their picks that were unknown to me--Laxness, Saramago, Naipaul, Mahfouz...)

The thing i took away from Vienna was a sad, world-weariness, and a palpable sense of romantic, faded grandeur and like a whisper of "this used to be an empire" from every street and building, if that makes sense. I loved it tho, and felt very comfortable there--met great people too (I decided that my family stopped off there for a while at some point in their wanderings in the past thousand years). I was afraid of the old men tho.

So Miguel, when is it your turn to get one? ; >
posted by amberglow at 12:43 PM on October 7, 2004

In the NPR news blurb I heard about the prize this morning, she was described as "controversial", though that description was never explained. Anyone know what they were getting at? Sexual content?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:12 PM on October 7, 2004

No conversations, unfortunately, but a big bunch of letters and plain postcards. They're mostly about the translations (and productions) - my method was to list all possible versions and wait for Beckett to choose the less clumsy. He often made surprising choices though.

Two examples:

1) In "Footfalls"/"Pas", the two characters are "Mother" and "May". It so happens that the word for mother in Portuguese (mãe) sounds very much like "May" so, to avoid (what I erroneously thought might be) unwelcome mirrors/echoes, I spent weeks coming up with possible alternatives, such as having May address her mother in the traditional (but old-fashioned) Portuguese form: Minha mãe, roughly meaning Mother of mine and literally My mother.

Beckett promptly replied that the similarity was all for the better. So I left it that way and, sure enough, it worked very well and, so far as I know, no one was confused. Beckett knew everything there is to know about the theatre (stageplay, lighting, sound, timing, tone) but we translators often treated his plays with over-literary scruples - not as a "text" but you know what I mean - and so unwittingly undermined its purely theatrical conception and presentation.

2) Another time - with "Not I"/"Pas moi", I think - one of the many problems was a reference to the game of lacrosse, which is unfamiliar to Portuguese audiences. I made a long list of racket-based and hockey-like games, including some fairly exotic ones, from the likes of the Basque Country.

Although I regretted it instantly, I decided to include a traditional children's game - a variation of "hopscotch" - which we Portuguese call macaca, the name of the female monkey. Understand that the context was schoolgirls playing on an Irish field. Macaca is generally played with pebbles on a pavement by everyone - there are no connotations of middle-class, Protestant Irish boarding schools.

Well, damn me if the man, in the middle of a very long, detailed letter setting out the reasons for his suggestions and choices, didn't select macaca as the only unarguable solution I'd presented him with.

In one separate paragraph, macaca underlined, he wrote: "Macaca sounds well."

I think a lot can be learnt from that "sounds well". Beckett was not a stickler and, even though I've never known a writer who was so meticulous with his work, he was a true artist.

Bet you're sorry you asked, aren't you languagehat and Matteo?

I have to add that he generously answered every single letter that was sent to him, even when his eyesight made it difficult, no matter who wrote to him. All handwritten (likewise the envelopes, a subject in themselves) and no sense of performing a duty or carrying out a necessary chore.

He truly read the letters people sent to him and always made a point of devoting a paragraph or two to my pathetic little dramas, with humour, concern and encouragement. There was always at least one extraneous remark or observation - always in perfect, lapidary prose - which made me (and countless others I've read about) feel it was a genuine letter - sounds corny but you know what I mean.

Perhaps I abused his patience with my little personal dilemmas, but he gave great advice and I have him to thank for a few crucial decisions I made in my life, as well as the many times he sent me his new work; allowed me and my theatre company to produce his plays in Portugal and, in two cases ("Stirrings Still" and "Worstward Ho"), approved my translation even though he himself, who never failed to translate his work from French to English or French to English, thought they were untranslatable.

I don't feel at all cheap about mentioning these things here but, still, it easn't easy. The important thing is that he carefully and kindly answered every letter his readers wrote to him and genuinely helped all those who were drawn to his work.

And if that isn't something, nothing is. I am happy to be one of the many who miss him.

posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:41 PM on October 7, 2004

"Perhaps I abused his patience with my little personal dilemmas,"

cagey Samuel Beckett vs MiguelCardoso in chatty mode: in a regular MeFi Day this would be great material for a hundred snarks. but not today.

Miguel: thanks.

a distant relative mentioned many years ago a great Beckett anecdote, not as great as your correspondence with the great man, but still: she went out to dinner at a modest Pizzeria with a few college buddies and they noticed a stony-faced, grey-haired gentleman at a table next to theirs in the half-empty pizza place. the man was, of course, Beckett.
after many minutes of embarrassed furtive glances toward the table where the great man was sitting -- and hushed "it's him", "no way", "come on, look at that face, those eyes..." -- my relative took the initiative, went to Beckett's table (he was done eating and waiting for the check or something) and simply introduced herself, and her friends, saying something like "I am very sorry to bother you Sir, but we'd just like to thank you because your work means so much to us". Beckett listened to her little speech with a puzzled expression on his face, then -- quite amused -- invited them to join the two tables and chat as he waited for the check. later, he had to left, and warmly thanked my relative and her friends.

they later discovered, of course, that he had paid for their dinner, too.

it was the night of their lives, of course.
apparently, he was the funniest, sweetest dinner companion.

wonderfully dry sense of humor, too. but of course we readers of his knew that already, didn't we.

thanks again for your story, Miguel. obrigado.

ps even if I never had the privilege to know him personally, I miss him like a motherfucker, too

posted by matteo at 5:35 PM on October 7, 2004

mr_roboto-- I think the controversy over Jelinek's writing stems from her dark pessimism about Austria (and humanity) and her ornamental language, which seems pretentious to some.

The Austrians I know like to joke in an uncomfortable way that their greatest achievement has been convincing the world that Hitler was German and Mozart, Austrian. I've known some very cultured, decent Austrians, truly nice people. They seem absolutely tortured by their national identity. It's a a very conflicted society in country that appears quaint and orderly.

Of course, being American, I have sympathy for nice people living in a country that elects fascists like Waldheim and Jorg Haider. Not that I'm namin' names here.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:14 PM on October 7, 2004

Thanks very much, Miguel. That was fascinating.
posted by languagehat at 6:42 PM on October 7, 2004

In today's Libération:

Romanesque et théâtrale, l'oeuvre d'Elfriede Jelinek, née le 20 octobre 1946 en Styrie, est une entreprise de démolition. Tout ce qui contribue à l'aliénation de l'art et de l'individu est à la fois son sujet, sa cible et sa boîte à outils. Les rapports de classe trouvent leur prolongement dans les relations entre les hommes et les femmes, entre les parents et les enfants. Virulente, volontiers obscène et caricaturale, produisant un formidable effet ventriloque, car elle travaille sur plusieurs niveaux de langage, l'écriture de Jelinek charrie les stéréotypes (la publicité, la propagande, la psychologie, les feuilletons à l'eau de rose) afin d'en constituer l'antidote.

the headline on their front page? utter, utter genius:

"L'imprécatrice d'Autriche"
posted by matteo at 6:19 AM on October 8, 2004

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