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“Obscene fantasies”: Elfriede Jelinek's generic perversions

Brenda L Bethman, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines Elfriede Jelinek's investigation of Austria's and Western Europe's "obscene fantasies" through her "perversion" of generic forms in three of her best-known texts (Die Liebhaberinnen, Lust, and Die Klavierspielerin). It also investigates how these texts, at first glance less overtly political than Jelinek's later work, can be seen as laying the groundwork for her later, more political, analysis of Austrian fascism and racism. The dissertation is composed of three chapters; each investigates a central psychoanalytic concept (alienation, jouissance, perversion and sublimation) and reads a Jelinek text in relation to the genre that it is perverting, exposing the "obscene fantasies" that lie at its heart. Chapter One examines how Jelinek depicts alienation (in the Marxist, socialist feminist, and Lacanian senses) in her 1975 novel Die Liebhaberinnen, and explores how Jelinek's depiction of alienation functions to make Die Liebhaberinnen an anti-romance. Chapter Two addresses whether Jelinek's novel Lust (1989) is a pornographic or anti-pornographic text. I investigate the complex relationship between aesthetics and pornography, arguing that many other Jelinek scholars collapse the distinction between mass-cultural forms of pornography and the high-cultural pornography of Bataille and Sade, and thus fail to understand how her text is simultaneously pornographic and anti-pornographic. Chapter Three focuses on Jelinek's novel Die Klavierspielerin (1983), examining the development of its protagonist as a (perverse) sexual subject, and her ultimate failure to achieve a stable sexual position and how Jelinek's text perverts the genre of the Künstlerroman. It also discusses Erika's training as a pianist as a possible causal factor of her perversions and lack of sexual identity, concluding that her inability to sublimate demonstrates the similarities (and differences) between the artist and the pervert, illustrating how Jelinek's novel deviates from the traditional Künstlerroman. The dissertation argues that the disruption of genres is one of Jelinek's most significant literary contributions, her works functioning to create a "negative aesthetics" as opposed to a positive reworking of generic forms. Jelinek rejects an identificatory mode of writing and refuses to create "positive" subjects, preferring instead to produce art that is a "critique of praxis as the rule of brutal self-preservation at the heart of the status quo" (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 12).

Subject Area

Germanic literature|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Bethman, Brenda L, "“Obscene fantasies”: Elfriede Jelinek's generic perversions" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3379937.