Elfriede Jelinek


Interview, November 2004


Interview with Elfriede Jelinek by freelance journalist Marika Griehsel in November, 2004.

Why did you become a writer? Who inspired you?

Elfriede Jelinek: As is said about most writers: on the one hand all I ever did from when I was a child was read, and I was a loner, which was furthered by my parents and my upbringing. On the other hand, the more I read, the more I felt this well-known fissure between me and the world. That started very early on, and then I guess I tried to close up this fissure with something that was accessible to me, and all I had was writing. My inspiration came especially in the 1950s through the Vienna Group founded by writer H.C. Artmann. It showed me 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. 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.

Some time has now passed since the announcement that you have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2004. Do you think this will affect your future writing?

Elfriede Jelinek: I have the feeling it will influence my future writing to the extent that without any material worries I could develop a greater ease, even lightheartedness, in my writing. That might be good for my language process, which as I said tends to be compositional. It could draw from a greater reservoir of freedom. The irony could develop an even greater ease.

What role has Internet had for you as a writer?

Elfriede Jelinek: Internet is exemplary for me. I do not want to have the feeling of writing “for eternity,” so to speak. The fleetingness of the Internet has therefore become very attractive to me. At some point I set up a heading on my homepage called “Notizen,” or “Notes,” in which I try to capture the fleetingness of jotting things down, similar to emails, which on the one hand acknowledges current events but on the other hand is not carved in stone. Instead it is more like something you write in wet sand with your finger. You can remove it at any time, whereas a book is more an object that “remains,” as it were, something you hold in your hand.

In your opinion what is the most pressing social issue in Western society today?

Elfriede Jelinek: That is very difficult to answer. I think isolation is one of the greatest problems, an ever-growing obstacle to political solidarity. In the past we would’ve said: to the development of class consciousness. The petty-bourgeoisification of society, with its hopes of climbing socially and its apprehension that a fall could come at any moment (there are no “jobs for life” anymore; everyone is at risk; jobs are becoming increasingly insecure; each individual’s survival is becoming more and more precarious, yet this doesn’t seem to lead to greater solidarity with others in a similar situation) – this all seems very dangerous to me. Eroding solidarity paradoxically makes a society more susceptible to the construction of substitute collectives and fascisms of all kinds.

As a Nobel Laureate you will have the opportunity to nominate for the Nobel Literature Prize in the future. What kind of literature would you like to see awarded a Nobel Prize?

Elfriede Jelinek: Literature that keeps employing new linguistic and formal modes of expression to draft a panorama of society as a whole while at the same time exposing it, tearing the masks from its face – for me that would be deserving of an award.

Translation by Allison Brown

Interview, October 2004

Interview with Elfriede Jelinek after the announcement of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature, 7 October 2004. Reporter is Anders Lindqvist, SVT, the Swedish public service broadcaster.

The phone is constantly ringing in the middle class area in Vienna where Elfriede Jelinek lives, but there is no invasion of journalists. Jelinek does not like showing herself and is left alone. But she was astonished when she received the phone call about the Prize.

– At 12:30 I got a call from the Secretary of the Swedish Academy. He personally informed me about the decision in German. It felt like having a black hole in my head – and it still does.

Elfriede Jelinek is an amiable but frail person who lives in seclusion. She has more or less withdrawn from public appearances and will not be coming to Stockholm to personally accept the Prize.

– I would gladly do it but I am suffering from social phobia. I cannot manage being in a crowd of people. I cannot stand public attention, I just can’t. Of course, if I may I might write something instead.

She had a difficult childhood, both her parents were ill, and for sometime now she has been critical of Austrian society.

– The government has once again made the right socially acceptable. That was when I finally parted ways with Austria. I forbade them to perform my plays in the state theaters, and I took all of them back because it does not give anything.

She is no longer a Marxist but definitely describes herself as a left-wing feminist.

– I do not fight against men, but against the system that is sexist. The system that judges the worth of women, the system that judges a woman’s worth through her youthful body and looks and not for what she does. Men are defined through what they do, women through their looks.

She is both a dramatist and prose writer, but above all a writer who experiments and breaks borders.

– My plays are made up of long monologues, which is similar to prose working with the language. If I have to describe my literature, then it can be likened to a musical or compositional work with the language. The problem is that it is difficult to translate. In that sense, I am a provincial writer …

Copyright © Sveriges Television AB, 2004

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