Wonderful Wonderful Times

This is from Wonderful Wonderful Times by Elfriede Jelinek:

From countless portraits and ceiling frescoes, the Lord God looks down on His children, who have turned out so wretchedly, and is astonished the He could have created something like that and then taught them this fact in religious instruction classes. Belief still causes Rainer problems in his honest moments, he cannot yet rule out the possibility that such a God does exist, even if he and Camus have substituted Nothingness. He hasn’t disappeared yet, and numerous priests are even personally acquainted with His family.

The next paragraph starts with the mother calling her family to the dinner table, but the bridge is at first ambiguous:

Come and get it, children.

There are many interesting passages in this novel to explore, but this one sticks with me (I even remembered the page number). The image that God looks down on his creation through the eyes of the paintings and frescoes depicting his image suggests this God is tightly coupled to art and artistic representation,  not in the sense that He is a supporter of fine art, rather that He is an imaginative creation of Man and not the other way around.

But then the implication of Man being God’s children turns back to God the Creator, but how can a perfect and infallible God create children that are so wretched and how can an all knowing God ever be astonished? From the passage, this God is clearly seen as being embarrassed by the mess he created and regretful that this embarrassment is being shared with the world through religious instruction. There is also a reiteration of the Man the Creator theme here where the teacher is God, implying that men learn about God from a teacher and not through any inherent knowledge of a Supreme Being.

The remainder of the paragraph is echoed throughout the novel:  Rainer, one of the young nihilists, is aligning his beliefs with Albert Camus. He seeks out senseless criminal acts and attempts to maintain a Meursault-like detachment at all times. As with his belief in God, Rainer can’t take that last step towards Nothingness:  when they mug a man and take his wallet, the true Nihilist would throw the money in the street but the young criminals in Jelinek’s novel can’t quite let go of the desire for all the things the money could buy.

For Rainer, God hasn’t disappeared yet. Still, that last sentence is puzzling to me:  “… numerous priests are acquainted with His family.” It sounds like Rainer is being cheeky here and winking at the reader. But maybe he is also referencing the theme that knowledge of God only comes to him through other Men who represent themselves as intimate with God but much like the paintings, represent a God that doesn’t have a direct relation with Man. Rainer equates God with Nothingness.

And finally, Jelinek makes a perfect turn and drops the speculation about an unknowable God to focus of a very knowable source of creation and nurturing, his Mother:  “Come and get it, children.”

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