High anxiety

I’ve just caught up with this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine interview with Elfriede Jelinek — you know, this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. What Yasser Arafat and Jimmy Carter have done for the Nobel Prize for Peace, Ms. Jelinek may do for the literature award. She betrays a weirdness so severe that she subtracts from the prestige sometimes associated with the award. Consider:

Why are you skipping the award ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10?
I would attend the ceremony if I were able to. But unfortunately I’m mentally ill with agoraphobia. I’m unable to be in crowds, and I can’t bear to be looked at.

Interviewer Deborah Solomon seems blissfully unaware that sane readers will find Ms. Jelinek’s political opinions symptomatic rather than vatic. Solomon moves on to discuss Ms. Jelinek’s politics:

That [agoraphobia] seems surprising for a writer known for her socially pointed works, including your new play, ”Bambiland,” with its references to Abu Ghraib.
I consider the current presidency to be dangerous to the world. I am really afraid of Bush, actually less of him than of the deputies standing in the shadows behind him. Compared to their activities, even Thomas Pynchon’s paranoid conspiracy theories are just children’s books.

The interview reaches a comic climax with the Nobelist’s protestation that her literary accomplishments have “reduced her erotic value,” but the fun does not end there. You will want to read the whole thing: “A gloom of her own.”
HINDROCKET adds: We wrote about Ms. Jelinek when her award was announced. She is widely disliked in her native Austria, in part for her Communist Party membership. Here is how a reviewer described her plays:

As has always been the case in Elfriede Jelinek’s theatre pieces in recent years there is no dramatic structure: no trace of action, psychology, or dialogue. Only angry sentences, corny jokes, and crypto-citations; only hatred of the ugly and scorn for the supposedly, the violated, noble.

And this is from a favorable review.
I’m afraid the Nobel people have made fools of themselves again.
UPDATE: See also the New Criterion‘s comment: “What were they thinking?” Thanks to reader Eden Hochbaum for catching an error regarding the publication date of the magazine interview that I have corrected in the original post.


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