Elfriede Jelinek © Karin Rochol

Wonderful, Wonderful Times: Reading Elfriede Jelinek (In-Person)

Instructor: Lauren K. Wolfe
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Elfriede Jelinek’s body of work—awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2004, to great controversy—has been alternately characterized as moral satire, Marxist-feminist fable, a Barthesian weaponization of myth against itself, and “whining, unenjoyable public pornography.” More suggestively, her prose and performance texts may be read as instantiating the terms of Fredric Jameson’s projected “new realism”: the reconstitution of a social totality in which relations of exploitation and domination are revealed for what they are—moments of class struggle. Yet Jelinek is infamous for her resolute negativity and cold analysis of, if not sneering contempt for, the conditions that shape the social world and the constraints that determine our experiences within it. As rich in commonplaces and cliché as they are with intertextual references, her writing treats received language like a slurry from which, by way of excessive wordplay and pastiche, patterns of oppression, complicity, insincerity, and narcissism can be recognized, ironized, and denaturalized. From her anti-Bildungsroman The Piano Teacher (immortalized in Michael Haneke’s film adaptation), to her take on the petit-bourgeois family saga Wonderful, Wonderful Times, to her sardonic attempt at pornography in Lust, how can we read Jelinek’s negativity as productive of an aesthetic appropriate to life after liberal humanism?

In this course, we’ll read broadly across Jelinek’s body of work—including her novels, dramatic writing, and political essays—in order to ask: What kind of “realism” emerges from explicitly anti-realist technique? How do capitalism and the legacy of fascism shape sex and romance, sexuality and the family? By what rhetorical and discursive means does modern myth-making happen? And how do we go about reading novels that withhold from us the contours of inner experience? Supplementary readings may be drawn from, among others, Elizabeth Grosz, Slavoj Žižek, Roland Barthes, Fredric Jameson, Dagmar Herzog, Gilles Deleuze, Klaus Theweleit, Andrea Dworkin, and Kathy Acker.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 07 — March 28, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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