The Nobel Prize Winner For Literature

2004 - Elfriede Jelinek

Born: 20 October 1946, Mürzzuschlag, Austria

Residence at the time of the award: Austria

Prize motivation: "for 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"

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Elfriede Jelinek

About Elfriede Jelinek

Elfriede Jelinek was born on 20 October 1946 in the town of Mürzzuschlag in the Austrian province of Styria. Her father, of Czech-Jewish origin, was a chemist and worked in strategically important industrial production during the Second World War, thereby escaping persecution. Her mother was from a prosperous Vienna family, and Elfriede grew up and went to school in that city. At an early age, she was instructed in piano, organ and recorder and went on to study composition at the Vienna Conservatory. After graduating from the Albertsgymnasium in 1964, she studied theatre and art history at the University of Vienna while continuing her music studies. In 1971, she passed the organist diploma examination at the Conservatory.

Elfriede Jelinek began writing poetry while still young. She made her literary debut with the collection Lisas Schatten in 1967. Through contact with the student movement, her writing took a socially critical direction. In 1970 came her satirical novel wir sind lockvögel baby!. In common with her next novel, Michael. Ein Jugendbuch für die Infantilgesellschaft (1972), it had a character of linguistic rebellion, aimed at popular culture and its mendacious presentation of the good life.

After a few years spent in Berlin and Rome in the early 1970s, Jelinek married Gottfried Hüngsberg, and divided her time between Vienna and Munich. She conquered the German literary public with her novels Die Liebhaberinnen (1975; Women as Lovers, 1994), Die Ausgesperrten (1980; Wonderful, Wonderful Times, 1990) and the autobiographically based Die Klavierspielerin (1983; The Piano Teacher, 1988), in 2001 made into an acclaimed film by Michael Haneke. These novels, each within the framework of its own problem complex, present a pitiless world where the reader is confronted with a locked-down regime of violence and submission, hunter and prey. Jelinek demonstrates how the entertainment industry's clichés seep into people's consciousness and paralyse opposition to class injustices and gender oppression. In Lust (1989; Lust, 1992), Jelinek lets her social analysis swell to fundamental criticism of civilisation by describing sexual violence against women as the actual template for our culture. This line is maintained, seemingly in a lighter tone, in Gier. Ein Unterhaltungsroman (2000), a study in the cold-blooded practice of male power. With special fervour, Jelinek has castigated Austria, depicting it as a realm of death in her phantasmagorical novel, Die Kinder der Toten (1995). Jelinek is a highly controversial figure in her homeland. Her writing builds on a lengthy Austrian tradition of linguistically sophisticated social criticism, with precursors such as Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, Karl Kraus, Ödön von Horváth, Elias Canetti, Thomas Bernhard and the Wiener Group.

The nature of Jelinek's texts is often hard to define. They shift between prose and poetry, incantation and hymn, they contain theatrical scenes and filmic sequences. The primacy in her writing has however moved from novel-writing to drama. Her first radio play, wenn die sonne sinkt ist für manche schon büroschluss, was very favourably received in 1974. She has since written a large number of pieces for radio and the theatre, in which she successively abandoned traditional dialogues for a kind of polyphonic monologues that do not serve to delineate roles but to permit voices from various levels of the psyche and history to be heard simultaneously. What she puts on stage in plays from recent years – Totenauberg, Raststätte, Wolken. Heim, Ein Sportstück, In den Alpen, Das Werk and others – are less characters than "language interfaces" confronting each other. Jelinek's most recent published works for drama, the so-called "princess dramas" (Der Tod und das Mädchen I–V, 2003), are variations on one of the writer's basic themes, the inability of women to fully come to life in a world where they are painted over with stereotypical images.

Jelinek has translated others' works (Thomas Pynchon, Georges Feydeau, Eugène Labiche, Christopher Marlowe) and has also written film scripts and an opera libretto. Alongside her literary writing she has made a reputation as a dauntless polemicist with a website always poised to comment on burning issues.

Literary Prizes and Awards: The Young Austrian Culture Week Poetry and Prose Prize (1969), the Austrian University Students' Poetry Prize (1969), the Austrian State Literature Stipendium (1972), the City of Stadt Bad Gandersheim's Roswitha Memorial Medal (1978), The West German Interior Ministry Prize for Film Writing (1979), the West German Ministry of Education and Art Appreciation Prize (1983), the City of Cologne Heinrich Böll Prize (1986), the Province of Styria Literature Prize (1987), the City of Vienna Literature Appreciation Prize (1989), the City of Aachen Walter Hasenclever Prize (1994), the City of Bochum Peter Weiss Prize (1994), the Bremer Literature Prize (1996), the Georg Büchner Prize (1998), the Berlin Theatre Prize (2002), the City of Düsseldorf Heinrich Heine Prize (2002), the Mülheimer Theatre Prize (2002, 2004), the Else Lasker Schüler Prize (for her entire dramatic work), Mainz (2003), the Lessing Critics' Prize, Wolfenbüttel (2004), the Stig Dagerman Prize, Älvkarleby (2004), The Blind War Veterans' Radio Theatre Prize, Berlin (2004).


The Piano Teacher (Serpent's Tail Classics) - Elfriede Jelinek

By Wild Talents

Trapped in an oppressive relationship with her suffocating mother, Erika Kohut treads an uneasy line between bourgeoise expectations of someone of her class, occupation, and upbringing - not to mention gender stereotypes - and her secret desires. Erika slyly pokes or pinches or jabs or punches people on the street car, she spies on couples making love in the park near the docks, she sneaks around the peep shows, she cuts herself with a razor, she buys inappropriate and expensive clothing that she will never wear and which Mother rips apart in a rage when she comes home late. This is a tough read: there are times, especially in the first half of the novel, when you simply cannot separate Erika's memories from her fantasies, the things she thinks from the things she's been told, and those from the things she is observing. Sometimes in a single sentence all these different states of consciousness seem to be covered.... But gradually the fragments start to make more sense and the true tragedy of Erika's "case history" becomes apparent. It's roughly half-way through the narrative that it dawned on me that Erika (who is heading towards the age of 40) does not even have a bed of her own, she must cuddle up to Mother every night. In the second half of the novel, a more conventional style of narrative is adopted, and the story takes an even darker turn: you can read more quickly and the story itself also gathers momentum, which heightens the sense of events spiralling out of control. A dark, disturbing, depressing, distressing novel but clearly deeply felt, scrupulously honest, politically acute, and quite possibly at least semi-autobiographical. Every bit as brilliant as Michael Haneke's film adaptation and unreservedly recommended to any serious reader. It might even achieve some kind of crossover into the misery memoir market...though I kind of doubt it!


The Piano Teacher (Serpent's Tail Classics) - Elfriede Jelinek

By Raymond Walker

I did approach the book with some trepidation due to the bad reviews but as a discourse on the failed artist it stood out for me. In a way I found it similar to Brecht both in its art form and in the writing style. Every point is focused upon and cut and cut, examined and examined again till there is nothing left to discover except their own tiny lives. Pulled apart and unravelled to be caught in a knot again by the picking. Pulled apart again and again till there can be no (mis) understanding, for they are just people in their own little world who notice the movements of outside life and humanity but it never impinges upon them except in the most casual terms. LOl- every man is an island. In some strange way it reminds me also of the TV series "house" where the most important thing is not humanity, or creation but simply solving the problem. Gaining answers. I also think this is an important function of mankind, not necessarily understanding but rather solving the problem, it may indeed be the secret that takes us to the stars or makes us continue evolving. I digress. Anyway I saw it about the pain of creation, wither, that be art or another you; (a child) The general evolution of art; for has not even sex become an art according to the tabloid press and indeed many authors of today. Pornography these days sees itself as art, though of a different sort, art none the less, according to the pornographers. Personally I disagree with that, though it is simply a personal perspective, and many would disagree with me. To get back on track; do I think it should be included in the list of 1001 books to read before you die? Most definitely, it has been one of the most challenging books to read and understand. It can be disgusting yet erotic though more often the former. At the same time never leaving you to feel one way or the other about anything in the small encapsulted lives of Erika and her mother for long. An obviously learned author and many of her thoughts about music and art in all its forms are well noted (lol- though as she similar tastes in music and art to me and I perhaps found that easier to deal with than some). I find it definitely deserving of its place as a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.