Write your own legend (II): Elfriede Jelinek at work

I couldn’t repress to parallelize this blogpost with the former one, be it only for the irony of it. As a matter of fact, it really sounds at first like a contradiction in terms to compare the strategies of a tycoon who reigned over literary destinies and their wallet for centuries and those of a literature Nobel prize known for her will to sever ties with capitalism. But the presentations I attended yesterday have made the parallels between both models more blatant than I ever figured they could be.

The workshop I attended at the Free University (more of an internal work meeting, organised by Prof. Anne Fleig) was dedicated to autofictionality in Jelinek’s work. I had heard about it in the blog “Autour de Jelinek”, a blog I read regularly and from which I gained about all of my knowledge of Elfriede Jelinek‘s work. I had been in search for good examples of living authors I could recur to in order to illustrate the changes in editorial practices involved by digital formats in my last class of term. So I went to the session of the workshop dedicated to digital authorship in Jelinek’s work – knowing close to nothing specific about Jelinek’s strategies, but with my whole class preparation and its questions in the back of my head.

Two papers were delivered in this session, one by Lena Lang and one by Delphine Klein. Both are writing their PhDs, Lena Lang in Göttingen and Delphine Klein in Lyon (you can remember these names, because both works are highly promising). In their presentations, they shed light on different aspects of Jelinek’s use of her website.

When she received the Nobel Prize in Literature 2004, Jelinek decided that since the Nobel Prize money made her financially independent from publishing houses, she would publish her texts on her website, give them to read for free. More and more texts of hers are being published on the website first or on the website exclusively since then. But not all of them.

This website is interesting in different regards. It exists since 1996, which means it has an almost 20 year long history. History is a major topic in Jelinek’s work, so one can legitimately ask oneself how she self-reflects this in the writing of the writing of her own story (I hope you follow my audacious equalization of literary work in self-publishing and self-historiography). As the presentations suggested, Jelinek refuses archiving in general and as offered by digital media in particular. She erases parts of her website without archiving, or even just notifyin the changes. The text Ulrike Maria Stuart was online for three days, then replaced by the image of a tombstone, and surprisingly appeared in print a month ago. The denial of the archival function (in spite of “Archive” being one of the menu items – the overall structure contradicts the acknowledgement of this function) of the digital media extends for instance to the fact that it is not possible to quote properly from the webpage. The only URL available is the one from the homepage – no subpages can be linked. And the reader is greeted on the homepage by the following declaration:

(D) Sämtliche hier wiedergegebenen Texte sind urheberrechtlich geschützt und dürfen ohne ausdrückliche Erlaubnis in keiner Form wiedergegeben oder zitiert werden.

(E; translation by me)All of the texts presented here are copyrighted and shall not be duplicated or quoted in any way without an explicit authorization.

(While typing this, I wonder whether I should have written to Jelinek to ask for an authorization to duplicate this sentence, as logic would have it)

It is also interesting that the design of the website has almost not changed since its creation in 1996. As modern as it might have looked back then, it seems strangely outdated from today’s point of view. Standards in design have evolved, we (we users of webpages) are expecting something different from a website. And not only are the texts not quotable via proper URL: the design in which they are offered to reading is anything but comfortable. Huge blocks of html, like a wave of overwhelming text mass, are reached out to the reader.

Jelinek’s strategies are ambivalent. Even if, to some extent, they suggest that it is possible for authors to emancipate themselves from publishers and from print in the digital age, they also sustain this system in the sense that this digital strategy would not work, were there not the traditional media and publishing structure. Just as Unseld did, Jelinek defines the extent of what can be under her control – in a much more contradictory and sometimes paradoxical way than Unseld, but still in terms of power over text dissemination.


Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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1 Response

  1. 22/07/2015

    […] permis de découvrir un univers bien plus complexe que je ne le pensais. Je suis déjà revenue dans mon blog sur certains aspects particulièrement intéressants des exposés auxquels j’ai assisté. La page web de Jelinek est une construction fascinante parce qu’elle […]

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