Travelling Gestures. Elfriede Jelineks Tragödienfortschreibungen aus transdisziplinärer Perspektive

Elise Richter-Project
Project leader: Dr. Silke Felber
Term: 17.06.2019-16.06.2021
Funding body: FWF Elise Richter-Project


Project description:

In recent years, the research on Elfriede Jelinek, Austria’s sole recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has developed into an almost independent area of German literary studies, but also of international theatre studies. It is all the more astonishing that intertextual and interstructural references to Attic tragedy, typical, almost without exception, of Jelinek’s theatre texts since Ein Sportstück (1999), have not yet been systematically analysed. The present project intends to fill this research gap and feed the results in the research on Jelinek, in the academic discourse on the so-called post-dramatic theatre (Lehmann) and in the current theoretical debate on the return of the tragic. The project draws on the premise that Jelinek’s rewriting of tragedies is based on a mode of disruption, inspired by montage and quotations, and can thus be conceived as gestural theatre. In line with Samuel Weber, who, making recourse to Walter Benjamin, claims that gestures cannot be realised, but only performed, it is assumed that Jelinek’s rewriting of tragedies is genuinely tied to a performative staging and cannot be analysed separately. The focus is on the question as to what gestures these texts produce when touching upon virulent topics and how these gestures materialise in certain performances. How do texts and performances deal with structural components of the tragedy (prologue, epilogue, messenger’s report, chorus etc.)? What discourses relating to democracy, gender as well as nationalist, ethnic and cultural issues are picked up on? What times and spaces appear by making recourse to affective gestures such as those of lamentation, defamation or revenge in one picture? What itineraries can be traced between the attic pretext, its rewriting and performance and what intermedial processes are related to it?

Based on these questions, Jelinek’s rewriting of tragedies as well as selected performances of these texts undergo transdisciplinary cross-readings at the intersection of literary and theatre studies. An analytical toolkit will be developed for aesthetic productions, the needs of which can no longer be met by models used in conventional drama and performance analyses. With recourse to the phenomenon of gestures, the methodologically pluralistic work combines tragedy research with approaches from performance studies, political theory, the cultural studies-oriented discipline of affect studies as well as the newly emerging theory of invectivity. In this context and in line with Mieke Bal, “gesture” is considered a travelling concept, oscillating between various disciplines, but also between text(s) and performance(s).

The first systematic review of the references to tragedy in Jelinek’s works touches upon key socio-political discourses of our age, places them within a historical and international context and thus sees itself as a socially relevant fundamental work.