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Recovering Jelinek for the english-speaking stage problems of inter-cultural transfer in Elfriede Jelinek’s plays and theatrical strategies to fill the “Gap of Translation”

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posted on 2017-02-22, 23:23 authored by Bastian, Andre Horst
ABSTRACT “Recovering Jelinek for the English-Speaking Stage – Problems of Inter-Cultural Transfer in Elfriede Jelinek’s Plays and Theatrical Strategies to Fill the ‘Gap of Translation’” is a research project in the field of Theatre Performance. The thesis consists of three parts. Parts I and III are a written dissertation. Part II is a production of Elfriede Jelinek’s Princess Dramas: “Snow White”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Jackie” (Part II). The production took place at Red Stitch Actors Theatre in Melbourne (8 June – 2 July 2011). Footage of the production is available on two DVDs that are included in the thesis. The research project aims to understand the reasons behind the near absence of the Austrian Nobel Prize (2004) winner’s plays on English-speaking stages and adopts a ‘poetics of an arriving artist’ as theoretical foundation for the first staging of one of Jelinek’s works in Australia. The written dissertation of the project touches on issues of literary theory, inter-, multi- and transculturality and post-colonial studies, translation studies and performance theory. The thesis relies on the metaphor of the palimpsest as a hinge between its diverse parts. It uses the notion of ‘palimpsesting’ in order to describe a core strategy for meaning making and exploits ‘the palimpsest’ as a figure of thought for elaborating a series of productive theatrical strategies. The proposal of cultural bridging strategies and their realisation within the context of staging Princess Dramas in Melbourne (Australia) is one important focus of this project. It concerns mainly the area of aesthetics and artistic poetics. In addition, the project has a strong ethical and political focus. It scrutinises the ethical dangers implied in the post-structuralist foundations of its poetics and discusses the dilemma of unbound (ethical) freedom that can turn into boundless (physical) violence. It examines various scenarios where strategies of empowerment can lead to effects of disempowerment and links this discussion to the problematic essentialisms of current Australian discourses of indigeneity. Discussing the image and/or function of the artist in modernity against the background of a range of theories such as the German Romantic concept of ‘Bildung’, Niklas Luhmann’s concept of art as a social system and several legal and political theories such as Jeremy Waldron’s study on Law and Disagreement, the thesis comes up with a series of strategies that aim to ensure responsible artistic action within the parameters of a liberal democracy. Part I (Before the Staging) is dedicated to “The Aesthetics (or Poetics) of Staging a Play”. It is the shorter part of the written dissertation and consists of four condensed chapters. They introduce the situation of the near absence of Elfriede Jelinek’s plays on English-speaking stages and establish the idea of homesickness as a productive motor for cultural transfer. They introduce Elfriede Jelinek’s complex writing strategies and name the deconstructive and mythoclast agenda behind Jelinek’s work as one of the main motivations for my staging of Princess Dramas in Australia. The re-thinking of the structuralist version of the ‘palimpsest’ (Gérard Genette) against the background of post-structuralist theories (mainly Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva) takes an important share of this part which also connects the theoretical discussion to some episodes of my arrival in Australia as theatre maker and researcher. The last chapter explores the productivity of terms such as ‘palimpsesting’, ‘palimpsestic’ and ‘palimpsestuous’ for the requirements of staging theatre plays. It proposes a dramaturgy of palimpsestic approximation in order to deal with Jelinek’s overly dense work and invites to scrutinize the foundations and borderlines of national-cultural categories. Casting an Indigenous actress in the part of Jackie is suggested as a strategy of naturalising Jelinek as a meaningful Austr(al)ian author. Part II (The Production) consists of the production of Elfriede Jelinek’s Princess Dramas: “Snow White”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Jackie” at Red Stitch Actors Theatre in Melbourne. The thesis comprises two DVDs that provide footage of the production. DVD 1 presents a full run of the production and DVD 2 offers additional material. The material consists of twelve extract clips that are mostly shot from a closer angle than the full shot angle of DVD 1. Part III (After the Staging) is dedicated to “The Ethics (and Politics) of Staging a Play”. It presents the major share of the written dissertation and is divided into three subdivisions. Subdivision I (“Staging Jelinek’s Princess Dramas in Australia – Dangerous Decisions and Multiple Circumstances”) deals with a range of aspects linked to the ethics of staging Princess Dramas in Australia. The six chapters touch on issues of decision-making and artistic responsibility versus post-structural aesthetics, discuss different concepts of ‘mise-en-scène’/’staging’/‘Inszenierung’ and ‘violence’ as part of the circumstance(s) of staging a play, and relate these discussions to cultural policy debates in Australia. John L. Austin’s notion of ‘appropriate circumstances’ of an utterance is introduced and Janelle Reinelt’s recent demand for embracing a new artistic responsibility in an increasingly globalising world is considered an important theoretical framework of this part of the thesis. Key issues are the relationship between theatre and ‘radical democracy’, (self-)censorship and ‘political correctness’. The theoretical discussion is linked to our/my decisions made during the process of staging Princess Dramas in Australia and to the choice of casting an Indigenous actress for the role of Jackie. Important issues of agency, ethical responsibility and guilt are revised by comparing different conceptions of artistic processes and aesthetic products in the realm of theatre in both languages, English and German. In a similar manner, the cultural relativity of concepts of violence and a loose typology of different kinds of violence is discussed by putting a particular focus on the notion of ‘structural violence’ and ‘violence of categories’ (Maryrose Casey after Emmanuel Levinas). The last chapter of this subdivision deals with questions of art and aesthetics with regard to the material needs and/or financial dependencies of art producers and discusses concepts of ‘inter-, multi- and transculturality’. Subdivision II (“‘The Artist’ As (Civilising) Leader or (Moral) Outlaw – My Self-Image As Theatre Maker at the Intersection of Philosophy, Law and Politics”) discusses the function of the artist in society and related questions of artistic licence against the background of legal and political theories. It links the theoretical discussion to the concrete case of staging Princess Dramas in Australia. The two chapters touch on issues of artistic relevance and the social authority of artists, censorship, the concept of ‘Bildung’ (Franz-Josef Deiters after Friedrich Schlegel et al.), the notion of art as a social system (Niklas Luhmann) and a series of intersections between art practice and legal/political systems (Jeremy Waldron, J.M. Balkin, Sanford Levinson and others). Subdivision III (“A Conclusion and an Afterthought – Arriving as Palimpsestuous Process, Or Accepting the Artist as Phenomenon and Signifier”) offers a general conclusion about the artists’ rights and obligations which is based on the artists’ proposed function in a liberal democracy. It also spells out the consequences that this position has for our/my staging of Princess Dramas in Australia. The ethics of artistic practice is linked to an unavoidable decision in favour of one possible belief system – in my case, liberal democracy. Being conscious of the aporias of liberal democracy, in the afterthought I formulate a challenging question that must guide the entire project: How can I act in this country that I like for its easy-going (or reckless?) celebrations of ‘beach, chardonnay and sun’ without pushing you, the Other (the Indigenous) – who obviously only exists as a hollow conceptual carcass – ever more to its borders? It is suggested that withstanding the contradictions between (rich) phenomena and (necessary) concepts by raising, again and again, the question of the fine line between German and non-German (or Austrian), Australian and non-Australian, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous as a first step in my quest of and for arriving in Australia be an apposite strategy to avoid an endless repetition of the ‘First Step’ (or arrival of the First Fleet) and its concomitant ideology of terra nullius.


Principal supervisor

Peter Snow

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Theatre and Performance


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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