Sunday, September 13, 2015
LUST by Elfriede Jelinek
Grim, grim, grim, unrelievedly grim, Elfriede Jelinek's Lust is a pornographic satire in the nauseating mode of Pasolini's brilliantly disturbing film Salo, but Jelinek's novel, unfortunately, is not brilliant enough to be truly disturbing. Lust is a deliberately ugly, intentionally unassimilable 200-page anti-bourgeois, anti-heterosexual diatribe that reads at times like the outrageously perverse sermon of a radical leftist puritan. Jelinek seems to have intended to compose a pornographic satire, but her ideas about pornography and sexuality are so ideologically warped in the direction of 1980s anti-porn feminist discourse that her pornographic imagination contains not an iota of lightness, not the slightest flash of comedy--not even dark, absurdist comedy (and human sexuality is nothing if not absurd). (The sole ludic element in the novel, Jelinek's wordplay, seems clumsy and clunky in Michael Hulse's translation and may be deliberately so in the original German.) Unlike her earlier, psychologically acute novel The Piano Teacher, which I admired after a second reading, Lust is little more than an ideological sermon: monotonous, humorless, soporific. There is no space for psychology here. Her characters are reduced to cardboard cut-outs and their actions are mechanical, robotic. The world of Lust is so (I repeat it) unrelievedly grim, so one-dimensional, so alienated from any recognizable human reality that Jelinek has defeated her own satirical purpose and produced a work of weird sexual surrealism, an unfunny cartoon in words, the unlovable bastard child of the Marquis de Sade, Robert Crumb and Andrea Dworkin. Jelinek called it Lust; if Roman Polanski hadn't preempted the title she might more properly have named it Repulsion.