Wonderful, Wonderful Times

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In reality I am revolted by my desires. But the desires are stronger than I am.

Music annihilates distinction: The indistinct chords promise the fine-tune of harmony, of melody, of strings, flutes, clarinets, and voices working in perfect order; while the distinct chords, forever straining under the musicians adept fingers, revolt against the oppressive order; their harsh, inconsonant sounds in the milieu of musical grandiosity, struggle to remain stiff and alone, but alas, they must give away, the musician argues; the musician beats one more time, and the chords, both distinct and indistinct, sounding the beat of pleasure and pain, reach a crescendo; the musician smiles, the crowd applauses, the violence of annihilation fills them with ecstasy.

Elfriede Jelineks ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Times’, set in the post-war Austria (late 1950s), which is struggling to get on its feet after a failed Socialist uprising and suffering the wounds of defeat in the Second World War, charts the story of four teenagers and how they spend their everyday lives engaging in wanton acts of cold-blooded violence. The novelization is haunting, for part it mostly focuses on the internal thoughts of characters, and the characters are an unlikeable lot. People should not be beaten up for the reasons of hatred but for no reason at all, it should be an end in itself, admonishes her brother, Rainer. The forewarning appears in the beginning of the novel, where the four teenagers assault an unguarded foreigner. While describing the attack, Jelinek makes every attempt to normalize it. The attack is seen as a direct result of the baggage of hatred the people of her country carry after the war. Its important to keep the context in perspective while reading her novel.

The events are described in astonishing fluidity. All sorts of perversions take place. The one-legged father beats up his wife and kids to make up for his loss of masculinity- possibly resulting from seeing the carnage of naked women and a failed Nazi uprising; he ogles in public, takes naked pictures of his wife, and uses every tool to inflict violence upon her. His son, Rainer, sworn to a life of an artist, which he sees as full of opportunities to assert one-self and create a cult of own, dabbles in existential literature and uses it to exhort others to rationalize their deviant urges. The teenagers, tired by the misery, drudgery, and squalor of the country, find refuge and freedom in their wanton acts. They steal, assault, and even kill. We need the universally valid norm to get a kick out of our own extremeness.

Jelineks tone is hateful and repugnant. Be it an artist or a philistine, no one is spared. The acrid stench issues out of every word and pore of this book, till the bile is clogged in the readers throat. Yet she sustains it by her passion of reading into human behavior in times of desperation. She sees filth as a natural phenomenon, if one is left to ones wild, untamed instincts. Every child is instinctively drawn towards filth, till you pull it back.

‘Wonderful, Wonderful Times’ is intensely harrowing. The final act of the book left me running for the covers. Its steeped in decadence, violence, and sexual depravity and treats these as natural processes for understanding human mind and behavior. There are times when the book goes overboard and become a parody of it-self; but such instances are rare and are overshadowed by the brute force of Jelineks literary power. The teenagers are sexually voracious, self-willed, angry individuals who threaten and demonize the stifling order that enfolds them. This is the angriest and scariest book that Ive ever read. Her work reverberates like chamber music. It doesnt attempt to challenge anything. It only shows. In that way, its a spectacle: take it or leave it.

 

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