Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

In and outside the stories they tell

At last, Tim Parks makes the important distinction between Elfriede Jelinek and her influential predecessor:
The extremity of Jelinek's tirades soon won her comparisons with Thomas Bernhard, who had also remorselessly attacked the residual fascism of modern Austria. Seeking, in an interview with Gitta Honegger, a respected theater critic and biographer of Bernhard, to distinguish her approach from his, Jelinek claimed that as a man Bernhard "could claim a position of authority," projecting an identity with which readers could relate and giving a coherent, rhetorically convincing account of Austrian society, whereas, being a woman, even this form of "positive" approach was denied her; a woman working in a man's world and language could not present a coherent identity. [...]

However, one hardly need resort to feminist theories of language to see more obvious differences between the two writers. Bernhard's narrators are firmly placed within the stories they tell and a certain pathos attaches to the damage they do themselves with their constant negativity. In many of Bernhard's works (Frost for example, or the later Correction) we see a narrator drawn into the orbit of a strikingly negative figure and are invited to feel all the danger of his being seduced and destroyed by the other's despairing vision. There is never, that is, any complacency about what it means to see the world so darkly, nor a conviction that withdrawal is any solution.

Jelinek's narrator may constantly make her presence felt, addressing the reader directly and voicing the fiercest invectives, yet she remains resolutely outside the story, invulnerable in her sardonic detachment, her avoidance of experience. This separation is occasionally reinforced by reminding us that her characters are "only" creations, something Bernhard never does.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:21 pm

    If your characters are "only creations" it seems you're well outside the story. You can't have it both ways: either your characters are real to you or you're writing something other than a novel.

    Meg

    ReplyDelete

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