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Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Piano Teacher (1983) by Elfriede Jelinek

Image result for isabelle huppert piano teacher
Isabelle Huppert gave a memorable performance as the title character in the movie version of the The Piano Teacher, released in 2001;

Book Review
The Piano Teacher (1983)
by Elfriede Jelinek

  I am familiar with the movie version, memorably starring Isabelle Huppert and directed by Michael Haneke (2001).  The movie is compelling stuff, a twisted pyscho sexual "thriller" as that word applies to a French art film.   The book I found less emotionally compelling, but more interesting intellectually.    I'm not a big fan of BDSM, but I'm not frightened by it either.  My position is that it's a normal part of the range of human sexuality, perhaps not as benign as the LGBTQ rainbow of affiliations, but a step above outright reprehensible expressions of sexuality like pedophilia or bestiality.   The difference is the presence of consent on the part of both partners.  It's also, to me, the most interesting part of the BDSM world, the contractual nature of it all.

  If you are unfamiliar with the BDSM world, BDSM is more then just restraints, whips and chains (though indeed those props figure in the plot of The Piano Teacher.)  The more involved areas of the BDSM world typically involve written contracts with explicit language concerning the rights and responsibilities of the parties concern.  The contracts, of course, regard agreements of the sort where one party is essentially voluntarily enslaved by the other, usually with the explicit purpose of sexual gratification on the part of the both parties.

  In the professional BDSM world, professional dominatrix's are often called "Mistresses," and it reflects the common posture of a woman dominating a man, and being paid for it.   The Piano Teacher, set in Vienna in the mid 1970's, is a world away from the contemporary world of BDSM, but as the birthplace of Freudianism, it is a place very much at the center of BDSM culture.   Much of the theory and practice that underlays this area of human sexuality was formed explicitly either following or opposed to classic Freudian theory regarding the relationship between families, sexual pleasure and death obsession.  This trilogy is also a good summation of the themes of The Piano Teacher, about a soon-to-be spinster who lives with her domineering mother in a small Viennnese apartment, with the daughter supporting both with her work as a piano teacher.

  Freudian motifs dominate The Piano Teacher from start to finish: unfulfilled ambitions, troubled familial relationships, an obsession with the obliteration of the self through self destructive activity, The Piano Teacher is a panoply of neuroses. 

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