Monday, May 29, 2006

Women Climbing Ladders

I've been reading a depressing book for the last two days, Elfriede Jelinek's Women as Lovers. Contrary to what the title might have you assume, the female characters are in my opinion not lovers as they are merely passive vessels capturing the semen and patriarchal accoutrements of their trajectors.
For me, the book was an excercise in depersonalization. I had to remain distant from the characters and the story in order to read it and not throw the book across the room in despair. In many ways my depersonalization was quite similar to what the characters underwent through Jelinek's writing style. There are no capital letters in this novel. Often names are reduced to the first letter for example "b." The writing is basic with no frills. Very simplistic thoughts with no unneeded description in order to better reflect the lives, thoughts, and goals, of the characters. The goals of the characters were very simple: to try to climb up the rungs of the social ladder in villages and towns in the alpine countryside of Austria.
bridgette and paula were the main characters. Both had dreams of climbing the ladder. bridgette was forever practical. She just wanted a practical man who would help her up a notch even if he literally repulsed her. The sex scenes between them were repulsive. Grunt, grunt and it is over. bridgette's only pleasure being her future pleasure of a husband, house, furniture, stable identity as wife and mother.
paula attempted to be practical with her seamstress apprenticeship but became lost in the media definition of love. Her big mistake was to think that she had fallen in love and like many 15 year olds that I see at the local alternative high school or in mommy's groups, she paid the price. She paid the price, while Mr grunt grunt inseminator didn't. But what's new about that?
Nothing really. Its Jelinek's writing that is so gripping. The writing so matches the behavior. I felt like I was in the mind of the bridgette and paula as their dreams were simple and uncomplicated just like Jelinek's sentences. Plus, because the writing has been stripped to the bare minimum, it is hard to deny the classism that lies beneath.
bridget's mom is a single mom, bridget like her mother has no education and works as an unskilled bra seamstress. bridget wants to move up and even if she is ridiculed and must use her body to jump a rung, she will. susi her competition, would actually be jumping down a rung but would offer the puffy male heinz, a higher rung. paula is already at a pretty low rung but she wasted the money invested on her with her seamstress apprenticeship on the loser erich.
getting up the rung requires work, which bridgette understood, not easy media driven romantic fulfillment as paula chooses.
Poor paula, when she finally tries to gain some control over her life in the only way she is given the opportunity, through prostitution, she is shunned to the lowest rung from whence bridgette came, the bra factory.
I have no great words of wisdom after this read. If anything, I remind readers to always remember how women are affected by classism and economic oppression even when they are not directly mentioned. When we think of immigration policies, remember the women. When we think of trade policy, think of women.
As Shilamuth Firestone wrote nearly a century ago:
Marx was on to something more profound than he knew when he observed that
the family contained within itself in embryo, all the antagonism that later
develops on a wide scale within the society and the state.


No comments: