E-books and web publishing are not new but also not old. News, information transfer, and advertisements arrived first, then gradually some scholarly publishing, and finally but cautiously, a few authors put various creative texts on the Internet (i.e., Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet). Today, the Internet is still used as the number one medium for massive and quick information transfer rather than for publishing scholarship and literature. Nevertheless, high publishing costs and legal restrictions at conventional publishing houses have driven a number of scholarly organizations to venture into e-publishing. It was „civil disobedience“ – also for Elfriede Jelinek?
Electronic access to Jelinek-texts is not new. In fact, the author has been granting access to many of her texts for years by putting them on her homepage. Under „http://www.elfriedejelinek.com„, the interested reader can find scores of essays, short narratives, and English translations of her writings. Her latest texts, available on her homepage, are the first two chapters of Neid, Privatroman [Jealousy/Envy, Private Novel]. According to Jelinek, Neid neither constitutes an e-book nor will it ever be published in the conventional form. Rather, this body of text, constructed of individual chapters of different length that are placed in the ephemeral medium of the Internet at different times, has the potential to evolve, to grow and develop, to increase and change, but also to decrease or come to a standstill.
The subtitle „Privatroman,“ a private novel is a curious term for a Jelinek-text since the author is an intensely private person and rarely allows a glimpse into her personal life and purpose. However, this time the author permits her own voice to be heard. Personal experiences, reflections, and attitudes are woven into her novel. In addition, the unusual designation communicates the fact that the author herself manages the text’s worldwide accessibility. She permits the reading of the chapters on the computer. One can even download them, or copy and print the pages, but one may not quote from them in the public domain.
Particularly unusual is the fact that Jelinek offers a work in progress in the open medium of the Internet. Chapter by chapter and in irregular intervals, Neid becomes available to the reader, who will never know for sure when or if the next section may arrive online. Furthermore, Jelinek explains in a recent interview, she might make changes in an already existing chapter and/or never finish her work at all. Everything is possible, after all Neid is her „private“ novel.
Much debate about digital technology revolves around questions of privacy and public domain. „Privacy is under siege as never before thanks to the power of digital technology,“ claims R. Spinello in his essay „Code and Moral Values in Cyberspace“ (Ethics and Information Technology, 3, 2001: 137-150; here 140). The statistics of cyber crime prove him right. On the other hand, Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/; founded in 1971; by early 2007, over 21,000 cultural items were digitized, archived, and distributed) has greatly improved the accessibility of German cultural works and hence, constitutes a significant contributor to the transformation of the teaching of German literature.
Publishing a body of text in segments is also not new. Except, Jelinek’s text does not follow the model of the installment novel [Fortsetzungsroman] since the two Neid-chapters do not constitute episodes in the traditional sense. There is no conventional plot that one can follow, neither a movement toward a potential climax, nor a hint for a possible solution. Rather, the two chapters reveal the depressing status quo of a provincial town and expose in typical Jelinek-fashion the devastation of life caused by the ravenous exploitation of human and natural resources. The town in the Austrian Styria-region suffers under high unemployment and its inhabitants hope for a better future provided by mass-tourism. The town offers as attractions the region’s natural beauty (including its barren red mountain) and its historical artifacts.
In all of her works, Jelinek writes against the unreal, the fake (das Unechte) and against the exploitative system on the whole. She demasks sociopolitical practices as they affect the „body“ on the physical and metaphysical level. By doing so, she illuminates the artificiality and brutality of this process and its negative influence on the people (men and women alike) and their environment. Jelinek, thus, remains true to her thematic preoccupation with the ills and sins of the media, culture, sports, and tourism industries in phallogocentric Western societies driven to incessant competition by greed and jealousy/envy. Of course, Neid is also about the „dead“ and „undead,“ who are not permitted to partake in life, and about the „bodies“ of historical myths and cultural icons from the past that assert their power over the present.
The various themes and topics – characteristically woven into complex, intricate chains of association – are transmitted by the voice of the I-narrator, who seems identical with the author (joint or shared voice, the „double“) and, from time to time, confronts the Other, the „Sie.“ The reader also learns – haphazardly – about Brigitte K., who is divorced because her husband, an electrician, exchanged her for a younger woman. Brigitte lives on the outskirts of town and earns a meager living as a music schoolteacher for violin. The reader wonders whether he/she is meeting up again with the shrewdly scheming „heroin“ of Jelinek’s early novel Die Liebhaberinnen [The Lovers]? Perhaps, but under what circumstances did Brigitte K. learn to appreciate music and play the violin? We might find out in another chapter.
II. MOTIVATIONS FOR TEACHING NEID. PRIVATROMAN
SETTING ONE: The Double
Jelinek’s upper Styria region in Austria finds its equivalence in Pennsylvania’s Slate Belt and the town of Bethlehem. I teach German Studies at Lafayette College, a highly selective private undergraduate institution, located 15 km east of Bethlehem. The Moravians, also known as Count Zinzendorf’s Brüdergemeine of Herrnhut, founded the town in 1742. Moravian College was the fourth institution of higher learning founded in America and is known for its first-rate music education. In 1865, Lehigh University was founded near Bethlehem’s iron works and became one of America’s premier institutions for engineering.
The region is known for its rich coal deposits. In the 20th century, Bethlehem Steel became the region’s main employer Bethlehempaonline.com. It was at one time the second largest producer of steel in the United States and one of the biggest shipbuilding companies in the world. For 97 years, Bethlehem Steel provided the steel to build, transport and defend America. Its products produced enduring structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge, U.S. Supreme Court Building, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, and much of the New York City skyline. A major producer of armaments for the military, Bethlehem Steel’s workforce in World War II numbered about 300,000. In addition to its steel plants, Bethlehem had shipyards on both U.S. coasts that delivered a ship a day between 1943 and 1947. (1,121 in total). When Bethlehem Steel filed for bankruptcy in 2001, 13,000 employees lost their jobs, and over 130,000 individuals lost their pension benefits for which they had paid during all of their working lives. The devastation remains palpable.
SETTING TWO: The DaF-Classroom
Strategies for innovative teaching and learning in the German language and culture classroom using Elfriede Jelinek’s e-Novel Neid. Privatroman.
14. Mai 2007
Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger is Full Professor of German at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.