October 16, 2004
[Recently by Paul Gottfried: France's "Anti-Hate" Hysteria: Facts Need Not Apply]
What is something that Salvatore Quasimodo, Naguib Mahfouz, Wole Soyinka, and last week Elfriede Jelinek all received—but which eluded Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jorge Luis Borges, and Jean Raspail?
The obvious answer: the Nobel Prize for Literature. All too often the Swedish Academy has bestowed the prize on deservedly obscure authors, while neglecting world-class ones.
Some prize-recipients—Thomas Mann, William Faulkner, Boris Pasternak, Czeslaw Milosz, T.S. Eliot, Sigrid Undset—fully deserved recognition for their artistic achievements. But the vast majority of those on whom the prize has been conferred can be easily forgotten without artistic loss.
It has also become common in the last few decades to distribute the prize multiculturally, presenting it to Third World authors with hard-to-pronounce names, whom Western critics and (one suspects) the judges barely know or can only pretend to appreciate.
Another litmus test intermittently applied means awarding the prize to Western authors who defy their societies by joining the Communist Party. This may have been a consideration in awarding the prize to Pablo Neruda, Quasimodo—and now the Austrian novelist Elfriede Jelinek, who joined the KPO, the Communist Party of Austria, in 1974 and then ran around for years as a pro-Soviet "peace activist."
There is not much in Jelinek's scant literary output—three undistinguished novels, the last The Piano Teacher (in English translation) showcasing feminist issues—which can justify the Nobel Prize.
As a devotee of German letters, I picked up Jelinek's first novel Die Kinder der Toten, several years ago—but then put down. The narcoleptic preachy prose gave me as a reader of contemporary German prose a sense of irritated boredom.
From what I can tell, Jelinek's major accomplishments to date have been hanging around with Gunter Grass and other German leftist opponents of German reunification in 1991, calling for more German atonement for the never-to-be-atoned-for past—and expressing her displeasure over the anti-immigration populist, the Governor of Carinthia and former head of the Austrian Freedom Party, Jörg Haider.
A typical German establishment reaction came from the leftist German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (October 7, 2004), which published a fulsome appreciation of Jelinek's career "fighting the German tendency to suppress the national past." It reported that, born in 1946, the daughter of a Czech Jew who had survived the war working in an Austrian chemical industry, the new Nobel Prize laureate has apparently dedicated her life to "anti-fascist" causes. Her communist politics are apparently seen as a means to pursue this end—an expression of her willingness to pull out all stops.
In recent years the most scowled-at bad guy in Austria has been Jörg Haider, Jelinek reproves for xenophobia in a monologue published in 2000, Lebewohl (Farewell). It is amazing how this monologue, prepared for the stage, has fared in the guilt-ridden, politically-correct Germanophone society out of which it emerged. Presented initially in its premiere in the Vienna Ballhausplatz Theater on June 22, 2000, and sponsored by the self-appointed Embassy of the Concerned, Jelinek's "Haider-Monologue" has now traveled on stage to several German cities, most spectacularly to Berlin, where every prominent Gutmensch (bleeding heart) was on hand.
It is interesting to ask why Haider, who never jailed his opponents and has been a consistent defender of liberal freedoms, is regarded by Jelinek and apparently Süddeutsche Zeitung a graver threat to constitutional government than the Soviet dictators whom Jelinek fronted for.
The answer lies in the prevalent ideology of our age, which allowed the Clinton administration to huddle with European xenophile governments full of communist ministers in 1999 to decide on measures to deal with an Austrian coalition that might have included Haider.
Better sometime Stalinists spouting open borders and multicultural propaganda than constitutional democrats who may not seem sufficiently contrite about the German past—and who show this by trying to close Germany's borders to further immigration.
It tells volumes about Germany's modern political culture that Süddeutsche Zeitung and other German newspapers not simply hid Jelinek's dirty political linen, but if anything regards it as a point in her favor.
Jelinek, in the introduction to her most famous creation, explained that she penned her "Monologue" while in "rapt absorption and perhaps madness."
She surely knew whereof she spoke.
Paul Gottfried is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism.