Crashing Against Walls: Elfriede Jelinek’s Princess Plays
Christine Kiebuzinska (Virginia Tech) [BIO]
Jelinek considers the “princess” stage of women’s developments as a “pre-stage,” something that’s not yet settled in their roles as realized women. In The Wall Jelinek confronts her spectators with the intersections between fascism, gender, and sexual violence as she examines two iconic “princesses” of female writing, Ingeborg (Bachmann) and Sylvia (Plath). She is not however writing victim plays, for her deployment of pornographic elements and graphic representations of voyeurism, sadomasochism, and vampirism suggest to what extent she is presenting a reenactment of sexual violence as discourse. She appears to be more indebted to George Bataille’s exploration of “violent truth” than to traditional feminist ideology, particularly feminist’s critique of “pornography” as violence against women.
The “wall” is a double allusion to the crack or rupture (Riss) that engulfs the narrator at the end of Bachmann’s novel Malina, for Jelinek calls Bachmann a Rissautorin, the first Austrian postwar author to have exposed the crack in the insidious continuation of fascism in everyday gender relations. Crucially the word Riss also captures the violent force, the language of fierce ruptures so typical of Jelinek’s style of brandishing “blunt knives of our language.” Simultaneously the wall is also a glass wall that harks back to Marlen Haushofer’s novel The Wall in which the nameless main character suddenly finds that she is cut from the world by a wall that isn’t just invisible but also unbreakable. Ultimately, Jelinek who considers Roland Barthes as a co-author, places Sylvia and Inge into the collective mythical space in which Sylvia and Inge rack their brains to claim a feminine language, a feminine authorship, and also being visible within it.
In the era of postmodernist theory and literature, art is accepted as a cultural artifact and not placed on a pedestal as a true and objective embodiment or reflection of the human condition, and Jelinek’s The Wall reflects this shift in attitude towards representation, for the play is constructed out of mosaics of imagery and blocks of discourse that explicitly refute the notion of a private subjective space proper to the biographical explorations or what might be described as psychological determinism of character. Instead her characters are constructed out of surfaces and intertexts of what remains of their stories, particularly their deaths. Jelinek refers to herself as a Trümmerfrau of language, for she picks through the rubble of language to construct her outrageous and depraved word games that reveal the inauthenticity of the myths she is investigating. Thus her versions of Inge and Sylvia reveal to what extent their tales of suffering have become myths that are reified.