When steirischer herbst visits Upper Styria this year, everything revolves around “Die Kinder der Toten” by Elfriede Jelinek. Her ghost novel eloquently debunks undead clichés about Austria and national pathos.
Extracts of a talk with Elfriede Jelinek
German and English language
With Gitta Honegger (US/AT), Kelly Copper (US), Pavol Liska (US)
Austrian Nobel prize winner Elfriede Jelinek has described “Die Kinder der Toten” as her most important work. On 666 pages she issues an uncanny, in places highly comical and then disturbing challenge both in terms of language and criticism of history: triggered by a bus accident in the mountains, the victims of Austrian and European history plague the land as undead.
Published in the 1995 “year of commemoration and thought”, “Die Kinder der Toten” combines the question as to the (im)possibility of adequately coming to terms with the guilt amassed in the Nazi era with a bitter survey of all those spheres that continue to establish national identity in present times: from history, nature, home, patriotism in sport, and popular culture to revisionist, right-wing ideologies. With her characteristic wit, Jelinek scours this dense field of topics in an amalgam of mythical diatribe, indictment and horror story.
Jelinek sets her grim phantasms in a very real landscape with which she has been intimately familiar since childhood days: in the region around Neuberg an der Mürz, in Upper Styria between Mürzzuschlag and Mariazell. Much of what may appear invented in the novel actually exists here, for instance the “Totes Weib” waterfall. With a major project of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma and numerous accompanying events, steirischer herbst takes “Die Kinder der Toten” back to its origins, incorporating many voices and different media, probing this masterpiece together with the audience and local residents.
Elfriede Jelinek (AT)
Elfriede Jelinek, born in Mürzzuschlag in 1946, lives and works in Vienna and Munich. She counts among the most eminent authors of her time and was the first Austrian writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004. Jelinek began her career as a writer in the 1960s: starting out as a poet she completed her debut novel “Bukolit” in 1968 (which would, however, not be published until 1979). Since then she has written ten more novels, including “Die Kinder der Toten” (The Children of the Dead, 1995) which is deemed to be her magnum opus. All novels are characterised by Jelinek’s powerful style of writing and their political and socio-critical focus. In addition to her prose work, she has authored numerous essays, scripts, and radio plays as well as more than thirty plays, including the “Prinzessinnendramen” which billed at the steirischer herbst festival in 2002.