Obsessions (Prompt 7 #swinspires)

Elfriede Jelinek at Cafe Korb in Vienna

Currently, I am in the process of finalizing the manuscript for my first book, which is a revision of my dissertation, “Obscene Fantasies”: Elfriede Jelinek’s Generic Perversions. What inspired me to work on this topic is what only can be explained as an obsession with the work of Elfriede Jelinek, who is a contemporary Austrian feminist writer and Nobel Prize winner. I first encountered Jelinek’s work in a 20th-century drama class at Temple University, where I completed my Master’s degree. As a graduate student enrolled in an undergraduate seminar, I was expected to complete extra work and the instructor suggested that I read one of Jelinek’s plays as she thought I would like her. Truer words were never spoken — that was in 1994 and I have been writing and thinking about Jelinek ever since.

What I find particularly fascinating about Jelinek is her relentless pessimism regarding human nature and her refusal to create “positive” subjects (which has drawn the ire of both feminists and Marxists). Her texts, most especially through her rewriting of popular genre forms, results in an art that takes on a negative form. In contrast to other feminist writers, Jelinek does not produce what Rita Felski has termed a “literature of self-expression” (thus, for example, when she set out to write “feminine pornography,” she instead ended up with a book that shares considerable similarities with the work of the Marquis de Sade — not your usual feminist position). This negativity can make it difficult at first to assess Jelinek’s contribution to feminist literature — but it is precisely her negativity and its challenge to preconceived notions of what feminist writing “should” be that hooked me and inspired me to write about her compelling, disturbing work.

Note: This is my response to Prompt #7 for #swinspires, the Give the Gift of Inspiration campaign hosted by She Writes. Between December 13 and 24, 10 She Writers who inspire *us* will share a writing prompt. Writing Prompt #7 is: “What inspires you…to make a book?” It is cross-posted, as all of my swinspires posts will be, on my She Writes blog page.

[Photo source: Elfriede Jelinek’s MySpace page.]

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