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Theater im Medienzeitalter: Das postdramatische Theater von Elfriede Jelinek und Heiner Mueller

Dagmar Jaeger, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The dissertation examines Elfriede Jelinek's plays Burgtheater (1984) through Das Lebewohl (2000) and Heiner Müller's dramas Die Schlacht (1951/74) through Germania 3 Gespenster am toten Mann (1996). Drawing on Walter Benjamin's Über den Begriff der Geschichte (1940), I define the poetics of their contemporary theater, postdrama, and offer an analysis of political theater in postmodern media culture. The authors of postdrama expose the constructiveness and ficitionality of their texts and in this way respond to the changed patterns of perception in a culture driven by media. Jelinek and Müller reveal patterns of perception in which traits of fascism can be transported and show the mechanisms of the construction of meaning, history and subjectivity that are concealed in an image saturated culture. The playwrights' use of quotations and the construction of a postdramatic figure that is composed of inauthentic, previously used language material are important poetic strategies. The postdramatic texts move beyond the dramatic, i.e. beyond mimesis and the narrative of a plot. In this way, the writers discuss the relationship of fiction, imagination and reality, assessing a culture that obliterates the distinction between fiction and the real. Both authors create theater as a place of Eingedenken and write against the official discourses of their countries which have severed all links to a Nazi past. Jelinek's work pushes against the persistence of Austria's identity as Hitler's first victim by the annexation in 1938. Müller's writing stands in contrast to the official construction of the GDR being an anti-fascist state. With the use of quotations in a Benjaminian fashion, the dramatists reactualize the past in the present and revise the quotations by means of the new context. In this way, they bring to life hidden continuations of fascism. While Jelinek reveals via quotes the continuation of fascism in the discourses of health, tourism and politics in contemporary Austria, Müller's reworking of the past into the GDR reality exposes continual preussian and national-socialist state structures. At the same time, the two authors break out of the continuation of fascism with the postdramatic poetics. Müller brings to life past failed revolutions in order to break with the preussian-fascist heritage. In bringing the dead victims of Austrian fascism onto the stage, Jelinek cuts the continuation with fascism ex negativo. The text composition as quotations and the construction of the postdramatic figure thus means the reinterpretation of historical time and subjectivity: the collision with past figures, events and quotes in the present enables the recipient to view history as a construction; the postdramatic figure composed of quotes reveals to the recipient the construction of the subject via language as part of power discourses. The postdramatic texts of Jelinek and Müller hence elevate the recipient to the producer of meaning. S/he can interprete the past for the individual present situation beyond the official images and stories transported most dominantly by the media.

Subject Area

Theater|Germanic literature|Literature

Recommended Citation

Jaeger, Dagmar, "Theater im Medienzeitalter: Das postdramatische Theater von Elfriede Jelinek und Heiner Mueller" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027212.