Room for Manoeuvre: The Role of Intertext in Elfriede Jelinek's 'Die Klavierspielerin', Günter Grass's 'Ein weites Feld', and Herta Müller's 'Niederungen' and 'Reisende auf einem Bein'

Morwenna Symons
4 January 2006
177 pp
Hardback: 978-1-904350-43-9

In the structuring of literary texts that refer extensively to previous texts ('intertexts'), one issue is paramount: the space accorded to the reader. In entering into the intertextual debate, the reader is called upon to corroborate both the authority of the text being read and the power of literary continuity that the earlier intertext embodies, and to assert his or her independence from this same authority in the very act of responsing individually to its multiple significations.
This study of four contemporary literary texts, all very distinct in form and method, analyses the dynamic relationship between reader, text and intertext and suggests that it is in the effectiveness of this manoeuvring, by and of the reader, that the intertextual narrative can be shown to find its force. In Jelinek's Die Klavierspielerin the pornographic, psychoanalytic and musical intertexts form a discursive nexus of effects, central to the construction of a highly ironic narrative voice that unsettles and energises the reader into critical response. The intertextual game of Ein weites Feld creates a text that is structurally and thematically 'out of control': by this means Grass brings the reader into confrontation with the celebratory discourses of German reunification. Herta Müller's depiction of the village idyll in Niederungen embraces and disrupts the long-established and predominantly nostalgic genre of writing about the 'Heimat'. The quotational mode, and our discomfort in responding to it, opens up questions of authority and control, while Müller's use of a Calvino intertext in Reisende auf einem Bein is fundamental in the development of a central character whose elusive quality reflects (on) thematic issues addressed by the text.