Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Piano Teacher by Elfrirde Jelinek (1983)

This will be the fifth year The Reading Life has participated in German Literature Month.  This event is one  of the reason it is great to be part of the international book blog community.  Last year I was motivated to read world class literary works by writers like Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, Stefan Zweig, Hermann Hesse as well as lesser know treasures.  I learned a lot from the many very erudite posts by coparticipants and from those by our very generous hosts Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life.  You will find excellent reading suggestions and planned events on their blog.  To participate all you have to do is to post on any work originally written in German and put your link on the event blog.   

After just a few days there are alrrady lots of interesting and insightful,posts for the event.  It is a great source of new reading ideas.

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek is  at times shocking in it depiction of sexual sadism and masocism between a seemingly refined female piano teacher and her younger student. It is an a acute depiction of the impact of repression on a middle aged female piano teacher in contemporary Vienna.

The plot follows the development of a sadomaschoistic relationship of Erika Kohut, a piano teacher, and her younger male pupil.  The affair produces terrible results for both. 

Erika lives with her very dominating mother.  In the opening episode the two get in a terrible fight because Erika bought herself a new dress even though her mother thinks they should save their money for a new apartment.  The fight is so bad Erika tears out some of her mother's hair.

Erika likes to carry large musical instruments on the city train so she can hurt people by bumping the insturments into them.  She likes to go to sexual shows to see sadistic sex acts.   Childhood memories are skillfully woven into the story.  

Gradually a young male engineering student comes to watch Erika in a performance, becomes hsr student and develops an infatuation for her.  Erika, partially in revolt against her mother, begins a sexual relationship, of sorts, with her student.  She always dictates what he is to do to her.  The sexual scenes are long, detailed, violent and the man is there to preform, to be near tortured by Erika's abuse of his genitals.  Eventually the man cannot bear being totally dominated and used.  His reaction is itself the reversal of the sexual master slave dialect played out in The Piano Teacher. He is 17, she 38, matching closely the age differences of Erika to,her mother and the mother  to her father.

I found the novel very interesting.  The trip we take through the sexual underworld of modern Vienna has mythic overlays of all sorts.  The sex scenes are very well done.  The story's plot also depicts the reverse of the often treated female rape fantasy in which only an act of violent rebellion can potentially free both male and female from the fantasy structure.

For sure I would read more by Jelinek.

Bio Data- Extracted from Nobel Prize Official Webpage.  

Recipient of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature, Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian poet, playwright, and novelist. Born to a Catholic-Viennese mother and a Jewish-Czech father in Mürzzuschlag, Styria, Jelinek grew up in Vienna and lost many members of her family to the Holocaust.

Jelinek studied music intensively from an early age. She graduated from the Vienna Conservatory and studied theater and art history at the University of Vienna. In a 2004 interview Jelinek explained, “My training in music and composition then led me to a kind of musical language process in which, for example, the sound of the words I play with has to expose their true meaning against their will[,] so to speak.”

She published her first collection of poetry, Lisas Schatten (1967), at the age of 21. Discussing the influence of writer H.C. Atrmann, founder of the Vienna Group, on her work, Jelinek said that “if you want to say something, you have to let the language itself say it, because language is usually more meaningful than the mere content that one wishes to convey.” Jelinek’s poetry is at once syntactically demanding and brightly image-driven. Her stark, frequently violent images are richly complicated by their jostling, fragile, and lyrical interactions.

Her writing interrogates the relationship between sexual power and social structure, and marks her as a controversial figure in her homeland. She was a member of the Communist Party from 1974 to 1991, and she voiced her opposition to the far-right Freedom Party. On awarding Jelinek the Nobel Prize, the committee praised “her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power.”

Jelinek has also been awarded the Heinrich Böll Prize, the Büchner Prize, and the Kessing Prize for Criticism. She has translated work by Goethe and Botho Strauss, and her 1988 novel, The Piano Teacher, was made into a feature film in 2001.

Mel ü


Mudpuddle said...

not my cup of tea, really, although the probable effort required to read such a screed is admirable...

Jonathan said...

I abandoned this one when I tried to read it but I have since read Greed by her, which was grim but a worthwhile read. I should give The Piano Teacher another go.