Book info

The Piano Teacher (2004)

The Piano Teacher (2004)
Rating
3.54 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0802118062 (ISBN13: 9780802118066)
languge
English
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publisher
grove press
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The Piano Teacher (2004)
The Piano Teacher (2004)

About book: Are our children ever our property? Is it ever justifiable for one human being to take possession of another human's will and freedom; is it okay to retain another human being for our own personal use, like you would do with a motor vehicle or a cup or a comb? Even when that human being belongs to another nation, or is our own child? There is currently a world-wide ban against making slaves of persons belonging to other nationalities, though there is not yet consensus about making 'slaves' of other species, or of our own children.Some people are even more passionate against making captives of wild animals, against torturing them with an unnatural existence and having us preside over the fate of their life or death, than they are about doing these things to human beings. His vision, from the constantly passing bars,has grown so weary that it cannot holdanything else. It seems to him there area thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,the movement of his powerful soft stridesis like a ritual dance around a centerin which a mighty will stands paralyzed.Only at times, the curtain of the pupilslifts, quietly--. An image enters in,rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,plunges into the heart and is gone. The Panther--Rainer Maria RilkeOne thing that Erika Kohut cannot do, is to give of herself, because there is no self to give from. Erika's self has never had a chance to come out from behind the bars of maternal protection, has never had a chance to stretch itself fully, in the light. Has never had a chance to feel the stretching and contraction of emotional muscles in action, and so, confined by the tight bars of her prison, the muscles of Erika's self have atrophied and withered away in the darkness, until all that was left was Mother and the great heights of The Mission. Erika has failed in her Mission, constructed and assigned by Motherdear: of becoming a famous and revered concert pianist. Not that Erika has not busted a gut trying: practicing the piano is all she has been doing since her pre-schooler years, literally. There is no space for anything else, because even if we had the time to do anything but practice, we dare not do so, for any slightly robust activity might cause the child to injure her precious ten-tipped tools; and then, what would be left in the world for Erika and Motherdear? Just one another, the television screen and sour gum bon-bons. Not even poor Father, because he exited soon after daughter Erika entered the familial bed - he was taken to the mental health funny-farm in the back of the pig-butcher's truck.This novel is starkly unforgiving in showing us the interior world of Viennese culture and the world of music professor Erika, her mother, and Erika's student and love-object Walter Klemmer. Three is a crowd, they say, but who is the superfluous one in this uncomfortable ménage à trois?In Motherdear's methodology of smothering her child's will to independence, I was reminded of the terrifying image of a Muslim mother who, after her daughter became pregnant due to having been raped by her sons, decided to erase the stain from the family honor by taking action herself, and proceeded to cover the head of her pregnant daughter with plastic bags, subduing her with blows from a mallet, and squeezing the bags down over her face, holding and holding and holding it there until Daughterdear stopped twitching and kicking. This mother was not incarcerated for this murder, because our children are our possessions, are they not?Mother in The Piano Teacher doesn't do this physically speaking, of course, but perhaps the pregnant daughter stifled by the plastic bags, had a quicker out than Erika has. Because Erika cannot feel anything anymore beyond rudimentary pain, and even her pain has become a distanced thing, something that has to be given expression by cutting or pricking herself, because Erika cannot vocalize emotions or recognize them in their direct emotional form. Once upon a time she still longed to get away from piano practice sessions to play outside with other young people, but those urges are now long gone. The urges knocking and pushing to come out now, are met with a blind wall, a wall where there is no opening. They cannot come out anymore, no matter where Erika cuts herself, because she has had to build a wall around them. She has had to wall off the filth inside her, like an obedient child. Oh, not that she hasn't kicked against the walls of her tight prison, not that she hasn't rebelled, showing her rebellion now and then by buying one of the frivolous, wasteful pieces of clothing that Motherdear hates so much. Of course, such purchases are met with blows and kicks and screeches, and often, Motherdear takes revenge for Erika's arriving home late (even at age 35) by shredding some of these beloved pieces of clothing, shredding the symbol of rebellion; the only thing that Erika has that is hers, that doesn't belong to Motherdear.So is it a wonder then, that anything as 'filthy' and rebellious and natural as sexual urges, builds up and up and roils around inside blindly not knowing where to go? Urges which cannot find any expression, because Mother guards those hands day and night, literally checking that hands stay above board at night from her co-position in the shared maternal bed. We know how to look, but we know we should not touch. So, when we feel aroused through Peeping Tom activities, or by the beauty of music, the only way we can find expression, is to relieve internal pressure by relieving our bladder. This activity is allowed, and so, this has become symbolic of relieving pressure. I reckon it's not a co-incidence that the urethral phase is the Freudian stage of separation anxiety. I guess it's just another (and rather superfluous under the circumstances) way of Jelinek telling us that Erika had become frozen in the urethral stage--unable to deal with separation anxiety. Some of this novel seems to be autobiographical, since Jelinek herself studied music as a result of her own overbearing Motherdear's desires. Jelinek had to stop her studies and retire back under the maternal wing (from whence she eventually launched her writing career) due to 'an anxiety disorder'. Her own father also ended up in a mental institution, and although Jelinek eventually married, she remained living with her mother, only visiting her husband on weekends, right up to her mother's death.As such, I need to mention that this novel is not erotica, and I mean not even for BDSM lovers, since sexual titillation is not what the book is about, but it is closer to being a psychological study, almost a dark avant garde memoir clad as fiction, with deep characterization. The novel is written in non-linear form, but without making use of 'flashbacks'; relying purely on contextual evidence to orient us towards where in the narrative we are from a temporal point of view. This adds to the experimental feel of the prose that is written from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator who speaks the thoughts of the characters so loudly and with such seamless transitions, in a less subtle version of Virginia Woolfe's stream of consciousnesss style, that one often finds it hard to distinguish who is 'thinking' and whether it is Jelinek's or the character's ideas and thoughts that we are reading. As with Joyce's Ulysses, one eventually becomes accustomed to this stylistic quirk.The novel is a stark condemnation of the negative aspects of the patriarchal, puritanical side of traditional Teutonic society which denies nature as something ugly and filthy and in which cultural structures of power, control and submission, always angles hierarchical structures to respect age over youth, male over female, and tends to twist natural human relations into contorted shapes in order to conform to societal pressures.One of the recurring themes in the novel, is scenes depicting parents hitting their children; no wonder these kinds of behaviour breeds and perpetuates a culture of violence.The novel is also a socialist critique of bourgeoisie culture and the elevated status that classical music enjoys in the Viennese society that Erika grew up in. (Jelinek lived in Munich, but her grandparents were Austrian, and she seemed to have a bee in her bonnet about destroying popular images and conceptions of Austria as an idyllic place.)The sharp hyper-realism of Jelinek's strokes reminded me very much of the art of Frida Kahlo, who, judging from photographs, tended to paint herself in a harsh unflattering light. Erika reminded me of this work by Kahlo:The 'hyper-realist' feel of the novel has to do with the fact that Jelinek's artistic perspective was indeed an attempt at a literary version of Kahlo's artistic 'honesty'. Jelinek purposely focuses on the ugliness of everything in order to offer the reader no retreat, to force the reader to face the harsh 'reality' of the psychological landscape she paints, leaving us no option but to see its ugliness.The problem is that the human psyche cannot be painted in flat, realistic tones, because it is always an onion with layers. (With credit to Shrek for the latter observation.) The novel is unrelenting in its characterization, giving no quarter to any of the main characters: we see no redeeming qualities in the small, petty, selfish world of Motherdear's pathetic existence, and although we might feel twinges of sympathy for Erika at times, make no mistake that she is drawn relentlessly with harsh clear strokes, allowing no room for rose-tinted glasses: we see Erika in all of her inner ugliness in which there is yet intrinsically pathos--but there is no heroism, no reprieve, no redeeming qualities; just deep frustrated need--a need for love and recognition that Walter is unable to meet, because he himself is needy; he needs a mother-like love and he needs recognition and admiration from an authority figure in order to bolster his shaky self-esteem--something which older Erika cannot give because she herself is unable to give; she is emotionally and sexually a frozen being. She is also even less able than Walter to initiate loving, mutually reciprocal relations when it comes to love or sex.After all, the only thing that Erika has had any experience of doing, lies in the structures of dominance and subjugation. Erika has been taught that extreme subjugation to imprisonment and abuse, is the way to procure love--Motherdear has taught us this, and this is the recipe that has worked in getting Motherdear's love, so why is Walter not seeing extreme subjugation as love and acceptance? Erika does not understand.I feel that part of the social and to some extent feminist commentary in the text, lies with the fact that the only sexual role that Erika sees open for herself as a woman, is that of subjugation, a role she imagines will bring her love. This is not only a commentary on sexual roles, but also of the authoritarian Teutonic way of doing, where everything exists in terms or power and domination, and firstly maleness/machismo and then age determines your place in the pecking order of society.There are some interpretations that would have it that Erika is just intrinsically kinky, but Erika's behaviour can clearly be linked to her socialization process with Mother. Mother says she loves Erika, but Mother also hits Erika, even as an adult, and so Erika has learned to associate love with captivity and physical abuse: " His voice is almost toneless. Erika knows that tone from her mother. I hope Klemmer won’t hit me, she thinks fearfully. Please note that since we're talking about something as unpredictable and as yet not a fully charted landscape as the human psyche, that my interpretations of the character's behaviours are only some interpretations out of a myriad of possibilities.Another interpretation of Erika's behavior, (which I think is also plausible and does not necessarily collide with my interpretation), is that masochism is ultimately manipulative behaviour, which seems to fit, because the submissive seems to believe that they are procuring love with their submissive behaviour, but this argument loses me in the extension that the 'sub' in a sadomasochistic relationship, is actually per se the dominating partner. (view spoiler)[ Hmm. I think that I can go with that in that in this novel, Erika thought that she would be able to manipulate Walter and elicit love from him in the same way that she does with Mother, via apparent subjugation of herself. This apparently failed because Walter realized she was trying to manipulate him, and he rejected that version of their dynamic by re-asserting his own dominance by first rejecting her demands, and then foisting an approximation of these demands upon her but at his convenience, and I can agree with this interpretation to some extent, but I think the Walter/Erika dynamic is possibly even more complex than just that. (And I know there is an establishment review out there that suggests certain interpretations, but the writer of that review is under the impression that Klemmer's main sport is hockey, for f's sake! (Among other misreadings) So there was definitely not a close reading there).A close reading of the text takes me back to the scenario where I feel that Walter's overriding requirement from his relationship with Erika is a situation where he gets to shine, but in the presence of a quasi-maternal authority-figure, which is how Erika must have appeared to him in the classroom situation. So he basically wanted to get it off with the teacher, who suddenly is not acting like the teacher anymore. She tended to be superior and cold towards him and to criticize him in the classroom, but he wants to maneuver her into a position where she is going to give him warm approval and acceptance.But also, what Walter needed Erika to do, was to react to him in a reciprocal way, and I don't think we should condemn him for feeling repulsed by Erika's demands beyond that we might condemn him for being judgmental, because in Erika's scenario, as he voices the result himself: "What do I get out of all this?" In Erika's scenario, not only does he have to act in ways that feel 'unnatural' to him, but he doesn't emotionally receive any of the things he had been looking for from the relationship.When Erika and Walter are in her room the first time, when they shut Mother out via the wardrobe in front of the door, "The woman has made contact with him in writing, but a simple touch would have scored a lot more points. She deliberately refused to take the path of tender female touching. Yet she seems to be in basic agreement with his lust. He reaches for her, she doesn’t reach for him. That cools him off. "This and other sections where it is mentioned that Klemmer wants something 'real' from Erika, suggests to me that it is Erika's emotional and sexual passivity and inability to feel, to respond appropriately, and 'give' of herself that frustrates him. One could argue that Erika is withholding from him as an act of passive aggression which the 'establishment' review I read seems to suggest, but my feeling is yet again that this is not so. It seems to me that Erika's pain and her yearning are real. But human beings 'learn' relationship behaviour along with all our other social behaviour in a process called socialization, which is a process that all mammals undergo, and it is learned from the senior members of a community, most often the parents. Since Erika's father was absent and she had spent her entire life in a tightly controlled relationship with Mother, she would have learned most of her socialization from her mother. So, in Erika's world, subjugating herself in this manner, is the only act of 'love' that she knows, and in this lies the pathos of the character for me, and even some social commentary and some feminist commentary. (hide spoiler)]

Ich habe es versucht; Beim Grab meines verstorbenen Kanarienvogels schwöre ich, ich habe versucht, DIE KLAVIERSPIELERIN zu lesen. Mein soziales Umfeld hat mich bei diesem Unternehmen nach Kräften unterstützt. Meine Frau hat mich mit noch gesünderer und ausgewogenerer Ernährung als sonst versorgt; ich bin der JA-Gruppe (Jelinek anonymous) beigetreten; ein personal trainer hat mich täglich massiert und mit Proteingetränken gemästet; Goodreads-Freunde haben mir Mut zugesprochen. Zugleich gab es unterstütztend dazu sanften sozialen Druck: Aber du willst doch weiter zur Lesegruppe dazu gehören? Du willst doch auch nach Wien zur Jelinek-Exkursion kommen?Ja, ich will doch alles richtig und gut machen! Ich will die KLAVIERSPIELERIN lesen, ja! Ich bin doch kein verstockter Dummbatz, dem nicht zu helfen ist, ich werde das Buch lesen.Habe ich gedacht. Habe 10 Seiten gelesen. 20. 30. Bin bis Seite 80 gekommen. Habe dafür so lange gebraucht, dass ich nunmehr das Buch in der Kreisbibliothek hätte verlängern müssen und stand also pflichtschuldig gesenkten Blickes mit dem unscheinbaren Taschenbüchlein mit der wenig gelungenen Umschlagillustration vor der Bibliothekarin; einer älteren Dame, die sanftmütig ist (normalerweise jedenfalls). Sie sah mir in die Augen und fragte: Wollen sie das Buch verlängern? Es klang, als hätte sie gesagt: Wollen sie DAS Buch (etwa) verlängern?Ihr Blick hatte etwas Stechendes bekommen und ich musste mir den Schweiß von der Stirn tupfen. Eine berechtigte Frage, die ich zuvor möglicherweise unterschätzt hatte. „Ich mag meine Lesegruppe“, begann ich zu stottern, aber die Bibliothekarin blieb seltsam ungerührt. Ich hätte sie gerne gefragt, ob sie das Buch kennt, traute mich aber nicht. Offenbar hatte niemand das Buch vorbestellt, ich hätte es verlängern können. Das, oder es abgeben. Verdammt! Was tun?„Haben sie den Wetterbericht gehört?“, fragte ich die Dame. Denn eines stand fest, auch nach 80 Seiten: Jelineks Prosa überzieht die Hölle mit Blitzeis. Ich kenne viele bösartige Texte, aber dieser Roman stellt sie alle in den Schatten. Man soll ja nicht von Romanfiguren auf den Autoren schließen, aber muss man nicht ein Menschenhasser sein, um solche Figuren zu schaffen? Nie zuvor hatte ich überlegt, ob Zombies nicht doch ganz nette Kerle sein könnten. Unerträglich sind mir Erika Kohut und ihre Mutter, unerträglich ist mir, wie Jelinek die gestörteste Mutter-Tochter-Beziehung seziert und von einer Spitze auf die nächste treibt. Schrecklich sind alle anderen Personen des Romans, allesamt ihrer Menschlichkeit beraubt, Schaustücke jelinekscher Glazialkunst. Toxic Parents, toxic life. Wenn Jelinek vor sich hin ätzt, vergeht mir jeder Lebensmut. Das hat nichts mit Ironie oder Sarkasmus zu tun, dieser Roman vergällt mir die Lebenslust. Jelinek lesen bereitet die gleiche Lust wie ein Zahnarztbesuch: da drillt der Bohrer durch´s ewige Eis, um es mal bildhaft, aber nicht überzogen auszudrücken, und man spürt und hört die Zahnarztgeräusche, die man so liebt. Wie heißt es anlässlich des Besuchs einer Eisdiele: "Sie gabeln unaufhörlich ihre Kältebissen in ihre Eishöhlen" - genau so!"Mit einem kleinen Hammer klopft sie die Wirklichkeit ab, eine eifrige Zahnärztin der Sprache"; fürwahr eine sehr besondere Form des Lustgewinns! Wie gerne denke ich da zur Beruhigung an den lachgasmissbrauchenden Zahnarzt im „Little Shop of Horrors“, der ein echter Kumpel ist verglichen mit unserer Erika.Hätte Arno Schmidt in einer Phase tiefster Depression einen Text über katholische Landwirte verfasst, er hätte nicht böser ausfallen können.„Nein, ich möchte das Buch jetzt zurückgeben“, habe ich zur Bibliothekarin gesagt, und gleich schien sie wieder freundlicher zu schauen.Und dann griff ich zum Äußersten (man muss wissen, ich bin Agnostiker) und sagte:Lasset uns beten!Vater, habe Mitleid mit den Lesern in Österreich Und den schrecklichen Büchern,die sie dort lesen müssen.Amen.
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Reviews
Sahil Sood
To 'like' this book, one has to be first put-off by it. It's intensely harrowing and will leave a blot on your mind of such weight and intensity, that it'll become a part of your existence, something that you can never shrug off so easily. To read it is to mull-over the various layers of human repression, bestiality, depravity and loss of control. It's an unparalleled work of art that trespasses all possible areas of mental conflicts and suppressed desires; and paints love as a tumultuous, raging and destructive force.
Hadrian
The Piano Teacher is an unbearably gruesome read. It starts off with a brutal spat of domestic violence (with fistfuls of pulled hair) and ends with two of the most disgusting sex scenes I've read in modern literature. This is not a novel about personal growth or development, but about the opposite. Our main character, a piano teacher living with her hovering parasite of a mother, experiences personal destruction and the conflation of sex and romantic pleasure with pain. Unhealthy obsessions with sex, disease, filth, hatred, self-mutilation, all these other grimy little details. I can't exactly call this pornographic (for who would voluntarily enjoy such stories for their sexual arousal? Actually never mind sorry I asked), but it is obscene. I can't say I enjoyed reading this, but it asks the harshest questions about sex and violence. If you're that sort of literary masochist, please go on.
Paul Bryant
A bit like the moment in The Gold Rush where Charlie Chaplin opens his cabin door and the howling gale blasts him across the room and he spends the next five minutes trying to shut the door again – so many raging roaring ideas came hurtling out of these pages that I struggled to close the book at all. Actually, that’s not the right image! Too healthy! It was more like one of those exhibitions of biological curiosities you got in some old teaching hospitals, somewhat frowned upon now, I imagine. Something in a huge murky jar which you flinch from and turn away, sickened. Well, it was a combination of insane howling tempest and formaldehyded grotesquerie. It was both at the same time.SOMETIMES IT SEEMS THAT WOMEN DON’T MAKE IT EASY FOR THEMSELVESThat’s a bit of a sexist generalisation, maybe, but I give youThe Story of O by Pauline ReageAmerican Psycho directed by Mary Harron50 Shades of Gray by E L JamesTopping from Below by Laura ReeseAnd nowThe Piano Teacher by Elfriede JelinekThese women should be busted for aiding and abetting the enemy. (Story of O, for instance, was written by a woman to rekindle the waning interest of her lover – how gross is that?). Men are quite capable, indeed very eager, to create books and movies portraying women as secretly desiring abusive violent behaviour due to their strong innate masochistic tendencies (Blue Velvet, Lust Caution, Bitter Moon, Secretary) without women helping the men by handing them live ammunition. Intellectual men will read stuff like The Piano Teacher and Story of O; and although they won’t read 50 Shades they will note the amazing success of that book, and that its readers are 99% female; so these things become the cultural background radiation of our times; and the idea gets around that on some level maybe women actually want to be dominated and mistreated, whatever they might say with their feminist voices. Treat em mean and keep em keen. So you get a situation where the grisly Robin Thicke gets caned up and down the land for his dreadful song Blurred Lines (and the video)You the hottest bitch in this placeI feel so luckyyou're an animal, baby it's in your natureJust let me liberate youI'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in twoSwag on, even when you dress casualI mean it's almost unbearableNothing like your last guy, he too square for youHe don't smack that ass and pull your hair like thatI know you want itEtc etcWhilst at the same time these high culture depictions of female masochism like Story of O and The Piano Teacher (not to mention the writings of de Sade) are strongly defended, and Mary Harron’s film of American Psycho is parlayed into some kind of feminist statement.(Non-intellectual men won’t be reading any of this stuff, they’ll be playing Grand Theft Auto and pretending to kill hookers they’ve taken hostage.) So that’s the case for the prosecution. The Piano Teacher, whatever it may be, is not helping.CASE FOR THE DEFENCEThe introduction saysThis book does not set out to please or entertain the reader. It does, though set out to reveal all kinds of uncomfortable truthsA NYT critic wroteMany, particularly in academic circles, believe she has achieved a triumphant combination of avant-garde technique and progressive social criticism.The Nobel prize committee wrote :for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power(Wiki adds : However one member of the Nobel Committee resigned over this decision, describing Jelinek’s work as “whining, unenjoyable public pornography” and “a mass of text shoveled together without artistic structure.” )In some way this 300 page descent into extreme female masochism is supposed to be a protest against patriarchy, or fascism, or Austria, or male sexuality. This reading would set The Piano Teacher next to Ariel by Sylvia Plath, and would note her suicide – examples of male oppression being internalised to the extent that women become self-haters. Myself I think a healthier response to male oppression was provided by Aileen Wuornos.I THINK IT’S TRUE TO SAY THAT EVERY SENTENCE IN THIS NOVEL IS UNPLEASANT TO READ. There may be two or three exceptions. Our author’s voice is present-tense horrified-repulsed-lascivious-demented-sneery commentary. The author’s voice is as horrible as the main character is crazy. For pages at a time it’s only possible to glean a general sense of what’s happening. It often gets very close to complete gibberish. Most of the time you get a ranting commentary on Erica which is made up of an unceasing flood of metaphors which change or get dropped mid-paragraph and never quite make sense. Here are some of my favourite DAFT SENTENCES. Because of the style, it’s sometimes hard to tell if this stuff is supposed to be a reflection of the character’s diseased brains or is a comment by the author. Also, it is impossible for me to say if this translation is by someone who was unable to write a non-contorted straightforward sentence in English; or if Elfriede Jelinek wanted to sound like an earnest Martian who has not quite mastered Earth languages yet. So with those caveats, I give you my top thirteen.THE FEEDBAGS OF MATERNAL DETRITUSStriding along, Erica hates that porous, rancid fruit that marks the bottom of her abdomen.Simply by living his own life, he has created his own sperm, arduously and tediously.Her body is one big refrigerator, where Art is stored.Erika distrusts young girls; she tries to gauge their clothing and physical dimensions, hoping to ridicule them.Turkish men don’t like women; they never suffer their company willingly.Mother smacks away at the loosened hairdo of the late-season fruit of her womb.Erika’s will shall be the lamb that nestles down with the lion of maternal will. This gesture of humility will prevent the maternal will from shredding the soft, unformed filial will and munching on its bloody limbs.She stands on the floor like a much-used flute that has to deny itself, because otherwise it could not endure the many dilettantish lips that keep wanting to take it in.You can capture any woman if you exploit her awareness of her own physical inadequacies.A man who meticulously slices up his wife and children and then stores them in the refrigerator in order to eat them later on is no more barbaric than the newspaper that runs the item.She yearns for a man who knows a lot and can play the violin. Once she bags him, he’ll caress her. That mountain goat, ready to flee, is already clambering through the detritus, but he doesn’t have the strength to track down her femininity, which lies buried in the detritus. She is one of those people who lead and guide most people. Sucked into the vacuum of the absolute inertia of her body, she shoots out of the bottle when it opens, and she is then flung into a previously selected or unexpected alien existence.[After a performance of Bach] Both performers rise from their stools and bow their heads. They are patient horses sticking their noses into the feedbags of everyday life, which has reawakened.GIVE ME A BREAKThe Piano Teacher, then, is the rancid fruit in the feedbag at the bottom of my abdomen.
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