Francesco Albé: „Wir sind die Vergessenen, uns kennt man schon nicht mehr.“ – Forgetting „Otherness“ and Disturbing „Sameness“ in Elfriede Jelinek´s „Die Schutzbefohlenen“

(für den Nachwuchsworkshop 2018)

This paper explores the mechanisms of construction of ‘otherness’ at both the levels of language and content in Elfriede Jelinek’s text Die Schutzbefohlenen and in its English translation.
Firstly, Lyotard’s critique of Hegel and conception of a politics of forgetting will be applied to the text as a productive tool to enrich a post-modern reading. In Heidegger and the “jews”, Lyotard introduces the “jews” as the unrepresentable excess of our identity, that unconceivable element which needs to be removed, exterminated, forgotten for a sense of unified, pure identity to be secured. Jelinek’s “wir”/“we” in Die Schutzbefohlenen, hovering between being and non-being, untimely beyond time and space, dissolving in water into nothingness, indeed embody the Lyotardian ‘forgotten’ that the West drowns in a desperate attempt to prevent this threat from coming to the surface to be seen, heard and disturb the illusion of an identity.
Secondly, the analysis will incorporate a queer, postcolonial perspective by applying Sara Ahmed’s concept of ‘spatial orientation’ and ‘normalisation of directions’ to highlight the way in which the textual references to movements reveal and challenge totalizing ideals of “sameness” and spatial identity (nationalism).
In this respect, the paper pays close attention to linguistic mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion and to the tension/interplay between patterns of unification and fragmentation. These include: alternations of the particles “ein-“ and “aus-” and the personal pronouns “wir”, “Sie”, “du”, “ihr”; subjectification and objectification; the conflation between an all-encompassing divine and bureaucratic authority; play on words in revealing the hypocrisy of democratic ideals.
These aspects are analysed by comparing the text with the English translation (Charges (The Supplicants)) highlighting potential translation challenges, gains, losses and the way the two languages use their linguistic and cultural specificities in ‘othering’ and ‘queering’.
Lyotard’s forgotten “jews” and Ahmed’s displaced others emerge as productive elements which, applied to the German and English texts, enhance Jelinek’s disruption of any comforting, unifying pattern of identity and of those grand narratives of freedom and humanity that Europe holds dear, exposing their hidden yet dangerous mechanisms of selective inclusion and oppressive exclusion.


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