Salon Littéraire | Nele Hempel-Lamer & Margret Kreidl : Performing Violence – Dankbare Frauen | Grateful Women

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Salon Littéraire

I. Nele Hempel-Lamer : Performing Violence – Women as Victims and Perpetrators of Violence in Margret Kreidl’s Works

II. Margret Kreidl : Dankbare Frauen | Grateful Women

Barbara Kruger Untitled Your Body is a Battleground 1989

[ Barbara Kruger : UntitledYour Body is a Battleground , 1989 ]

I. Nele Hempel-Lamer : Performing Violence – Women as Victims and Perpetrators of Violence in Margret Kreidl’s Works

Margret Kreidl, born in 1964 in Salzburg and currently living in Vienna as a freelance writer, has made a name for herself as a “sprachspielerisch-witzige wie phantasievoll-radikale Autorin”[1]. Kreidl’s signature texts defy genre boundaries: Her dramatic works are too short to be called “plays” and her stylized prose miniatures are too lyrical and sound-conscious to qualify “merely” as prose. Regardless of their classification, all of Kreidl’s texts are ludic literary vignettes that demand to be performed or, at least, read out loud. Robert Menasse suggests that it is Kreidl’s language that creates the stage and performs itself:

Der Raum, der sich zwischen den Bedeutungen auftut, ist die Bühne, auf der Margret Kreidl Szenen inszeniert. (…) Es kommen nicht Menschen auf die Bühne, die Sätze fallen lassen, sondern es kommen Sätze auf die Bühne, die Menschen fallen lassen. (123) [2]

One of Kreidl’s main poetic principles is expressed in the reflections on her aesthetics Der Satz und die Seite. Selbstgespräch, 25. 12. 2001:

Das ist programmatisch für mein Schreiben: etwas zusammensetzen, aus Teilen zusammensetzen. ‘In allen Einzelheiten’: Das verspricht alles! (235) [3]



In this respect, dissecting and reassembling “authentic language” has become one of her trade marks. Much of the “found footage” Kreidl utilizes for her texts stems from product catalogs, ranging from mail-order clothing stores to sex toys. Taking this language of advertising and assembling it to new meaning suggests that Kreidl’s characters have been robbed of their own language and voice by their subjugation to consumerism. I will now demonstrate this effect in a selection of Margret Kreidl’s writings.

In the text “Einkaufsparadies,” published in her 2003 collection Laute Paare. Szenen Bilder Listen [4], a woman named Tina is depicted in a clothing store. Tina’s perception is hijacked by the language of women’s fashion catalogs:

Crashrock softe Viskose Nylonstretchhose. Ob das passt? / Mit Miederhose wie angegossen. Tina stolz: Toll! Taftfaltenrock / Lammnappatop. Poppig! Top! Schlaghose mit Rosenmuster / und Crashbluse puderrosa. Oder Bluse burgunder? Super! / Nappapullunder? Cool! Russenbluse mit Tulpendruck. Tina mag / rustikale Sachen. Strickjacke mit Rüschenkante Strasssandalen. (62)

While many of the outfits delight her (“Fesch!” – “Toll!” – “Super!” – “Femme fatale!” – “Kess!”), the last one in the text, accompanied by “High Heels mit Fesselriemchen”, fittingly echoes the “au!”-sound of pain: “Schlauchkleid mit Bauchschlitz?” This is actually followed by a skeptical question mark, and the text concludes with a cry for help: “Hilfe!”



The “Einkaufparadies” is, in truth, a capitalist nightmare in which women and their bodies are trapped in their voluntary submission to the beauty imperative. Kreidl’s poetics of collecting, dissecting, and reassembling of advertising material creates fragmentary characters with commercially-infused personas that lack identity and wholeness.

Her depiction of women and their bodies thus ties into the theoretical discourse of gender and body politics. It becomes clear that female beauty (“perfected” by cosmetic surgery and the fashion industry) as well as female sexuality are colonized by the women’s internalization of the male gaze and the body as object, rather than subject, of sexual desire. The pressure to normalize by consuming is, in effect, a form of violence that begets violence in return. By staging the violence, Kreidl creates an opportunity to re-examine the intricate network of suggestive consumer culture, which creates ever so many more voids than it fills.

Female beauty is a primary concern in many societies, and Margret Kreidl situates her 1996 text Tragödie, blond [5] in the debate over body image and consumerism. In this barely 20 page-long piece, the four main characters are women whose two-syllabic names all end in “a” and strongly remind us of the titles of German women’s magazines (Sandra, Petra, Tina, Cora). A different shade of blond, the color of their hair is as different an yet similar as their names:

Sandra, aschblond; Petra, lichtblond; Tina, platinblond; and Cora, goldblond (86).

In addition, there are also eight unnamed and just generically blond women, Damen 1 bis 8. The set is minimal, a hint of living room with a bar, most importantly, a full-body mirror and a wide array of cosmetic accessories: brushes, combs, lip sticks, lotion containers, etc. The title Tragödie, blond presents us with a humorous oxymoron. While the comma separates the noun from the adjective, our first impression is still that a tragedy – were it blond – could not possibly be a real tragedy because it would seem to lack the substance that the stuff of tragedy is made of. Even if blonde-jokes are not part of Austrian culture, the lightness of the color blond still defies the darkness of tragedy. However, it becomes quite clear throughout the play that the eagerness of the women to fit a certain mold of what is beautiful and therefore sexy and desirable does indeed have something tragic about it and therefore the title may not be contradictory at all.



It is interesting to note that the generic, no-name blondes in Tragödie, blond all portray a working woman image: whenever they enter on stage, they put down a briefcase, and while working is never explicitly discussed in the play, several of the women actually exit to the noise of a type writer, which suggests their occupation as the stereotypical administrative assistant, formerly known as secretary. The nameless, generically blond women all, except for one, follow the same ritual: They enter, put down their briefcase, and carefully arrange their clothes and hair in front of the full-body mirror. They are present on stage for a short time, then depart with their only line:

Er ruft mich morgen an. (93, 96, 100, 101, 104, 105, 106)

The absurdity of perfecting a mirror image for a phone call reveals the power structure of their relationships with the absent man. They also have to passively wait for the phone call and do not initiate the action of calling themselves. Only the last woman, Dame 8, breaks the mold and provides a variation to this recurring dramaturgical element: While she still carries the briefcase, she does not put it down when she looks in the mirror and she does not adjust her clothes or fix her hair. Instead, she leaves without saying anything about a man’s phone call at all. One hears a shot in the off, Dame 8 re-enters, crosses the stage from far right to left and never returns.

The societal violence imposed by and internalized as the beauty imperative, becomes external violence when Kreidl ascribes agency, as she sometimes does, to women with guns…A characterization of the four named women in the play seems difficult because they hardly engage in logical sequence dialogue. Two women may be sitting together, talking, and yet their speech is largely a monologue that describes a situation in which the third person singular pronoun “she” obscures whether or not the monologue’s content is supposed to express any direct reference to the other woman present on stage or not.

Especially in scenes between Petra and Sandra, which are physically intimate, the absence of directly addressing each other suggests an inability to communicate, to connect on a deeper emotional level. The tone between Petra and Tina, however, is mostly characterized by Tina’s desire for and aggression towards Petra and the intimacy of a past relationship. When Tina addresses Petra directly, it is mostly with informal imperatives, which suggest Petra’s subservient role in their relationship. Rhythmically interspersed with the repetitive entrances and exits of Damen one through seven, the scenes among the “named” women suggest that friendships and love relationships between women are as much determined by the dynamics of patriarchal power structures as heterosexual ones. The women’s uniformity is particularly apparent in their assessment of what constitutes beauty, and, more frequently: what doesn’t. Sandra, Petra, and Tina commonly say things like:

Ihr Haar ist zu rot. Wenn jemand so rotes Haar hat. Ihr Haar ist so rot daß es unnatürlich aussieht. (…) Sie trägt ihr Haar kurzgeschnitten und glatt. Ihr schwarzes Haar (92). (…) Ihr Gesicht passt nicht zu ihrem Haar. Dein Mund ist zu rot. Sie ist schlank. Ihr Kostüm ist entweder oben oder unten zu weit. (97)

Cora, the fourth woman, does not interact directly with any of the other women. Her speech consists exclusively of descriptions of plastic surgery procedures:

In den Schatten einen Schnitt legen Steg durchtrennen die äußere Nase ablösen das Gerüst freilegen Knochenreste und Gewebe entfernen Knochenspäne aus dem Hüftkamm Hartsilikon Knorpelteile aus dem Ohr das Gerüst aufbauen die Haut darüberziehen nähen. (103)



The extensive hair/face/body references in the text, the long looks in the mirror, and Sandra’s repeated make-up sessions are the normative parameters that unite the other women (Sandra, Petra, and Tina), which makes them bond over their assessment of themselves and others. Cora’s obsession with cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, has taken the beauty imperative to an extreme and has made her entirely unable to connect with others, even on the most superficial level. However, her current social isolation and the disturbingly clinical language of what critics of plastic surgery would call “voluntary mutilation” is merely a frightening stage in the process of normalization. The American euphemism for plastic surgery – having “work done” – already fits into the capitalist ethic of using your buying power wisely, and plastic surgery has moved from being exclusively available to the rich and famous to becoming a middle-class commodity.

Obsession with female beauty is hardly new, even if the promotion of invasive procedures as “fashion surgery” and “self-improvement” suggests that it has taken on some unprecedented proportions in Western culture, where women, ironically, can look back on decades of politically strong women’s movements. Already more than twenty years ago, Germany’s most hated and beloved feminist Alice Schwarzer, established a link between increased emancipation and women’s increased obsession with their looks when she addressed the spike in women’s eating disorders in a 1985 Emma essay:

Es wird kein Zufall sein, daß ausgerechnet mit erstarkender Emanzipation die Frauen immer dünner werden sollen. Daran haben auch Aerobic und Bodybuilding wenig geändert. Im Gegenteil: diese Moden haben einerseits das Streben von Frauen nach mehr Bewegung und Stärke angenommen, es aber andererseits im Handumdrehen wieder pervertiert: schlank sein und dekorativ, das bleibt das Gesetz. Ja, warum machen die dämlichen Frauen denn all das mit, wird da so manch eine/r fragen. Ja, warum. Weil Ideologien zäher sein können als Realitäten. (…) Und weil die Frauen selbst, als Schwächere, die nach dem Gesetz des Starken streben, Trägerinnen und Mitverbreiterinnen dieser Ideologien sind. Doch: bestimmt werden Ideologien von Herrschenden. Und sie sind es auch, die letztendlich davon profitieren. Auch vom Schlankheitswahn. Diese Männergesellschaft will, dass wir Frauen uns dünne machen. In jeder Beziehung. (26-27) [6]



Kreidl’s play Dankbare Frauen (titled Grateful Women in an English translation by Udo Borgert and Laura Ginters [7]) illustrates even more than Tragödie, blond the complicity that women engage in, consciously and subconsciously, by adhering to the rules and regulations of the beauty imperative. Women can thus simultaneously become victims and perpetrators of cruel behavior and violence.

In Dankbare Frauen, Kreidl addresses the complex issue of women’s ageing in reference to the beauty imperative. Again, make-up plays a central role in turning the face into a façade, in concealing a broken identity. Again, the language plays a central role in denying us a plot line to follow by refusing to let us establish meaningful connections between the speakers. Just as in Tragödie, blond, the set is an inside space, the home space traditionally allocated to women: a kitchen, a living room. Kreidl’s three women protagonists are named Marta, Magda, and Meta, and while these names do not resonate magazine titles this time, they do sound confusingly similar. Marta (short white hair) and Magda (bald with 2 wigs) are both 70 years old. The third woman, Meta, is 40 years old and has long, peroxide blond hair.

The rather advanced age of the two protagonists is immediately striking. In an interview on the eve of the opening night performance in Berlin’s Postfuhramt in 1997, Kreidl states that she wrote these roles because she herself would like to see older women on stage:

I want to see how women age in all areas of life and how they do not let themselves be desexualized, as is expected of them. [8]

As much as a plot line can be established, the story revolves around Magda’s 70th birthday, covering the whole day from morning to night. As in Tragödie, blond, the characters’ competing monologues rarely connect and therefore often seem like rantings. All three women are obsessed with fitting a specific image of beauty and they are actively striving to achieve this image through diet, exercise, dress-up, and make-up.

Their language and actions plainly reveal that they are fully buying into the newest new-age self-improvement trends, whether that means exercising with the “5 Tibetans” while engaging in an anti-bodyfat-mantra or painfully adhering to an anti-sugar fruit and whole grain diet which also involves consumption of sea weed. Meta, the youngest, is also obsessed with conforming to the ideal of the beautiful body, but she, as the much younger and therefore more desirable woman, is also exceedingly cruel to her older counter parts Magda and Marta.



An entire scene consists of Meta naming every imaginable Austrian sweet, and finally, after the fortieth or so item

Mocha cream cake / whipped cream cheese cake / red current meringue. Chocolate cream cake,

Marta, the woman obsessed with her health food diet, finally collapses, sobbing. Meta then laughs and delivers the final blow that ends the scene: “Sacher torte!” (263) – (These “Mehlspeisenarien” have become Margret Kreidl’s signature texts, and it is interesting to see how the sound of the text can change, depending on the context, from intentional torture [as it is here] to an example of “Esserotik” in Süßes Paradies (42) from the previously quoted collection of prose vignettes, Laute Paare.) This psychological violence is accompanied by physical violence as well: In the opening scene, for example, Meta singingly brings in a birthday cake for Magda who puts the TV volume on full blast to drown out the birthday song and who violently grabs Meta’s hair when she tries to set the cake down.

In the introduction to their anthology of contemporary Austrian plays by women, Udo Borgert and Andrea Bandhauer provide an excellent interpretation of Margret Kreidl’s Grateful Women. They comment on Kreidl’s “highly choreographed and associative language”, her protagonists’ masquerade of happiness in a world devoid of substance and full of blissful images created by advertising and product marketing, and even, to a lesser extent, they refer to the physical and emotional violence in the play. Borgert and Bandhauer’s assessments of the women’s interaction boils down to their inability to find a voice of their own in a society that has a set idea of what women are supposed to be. The fact that they cannot adhere to the beauty imperative with their ageing, less-than-perfect bodies makes them turn on each other:

They look at each other, assess each other’s beauty, their hair, their makeup, their clothes, but they do so with a male gaze. They are upholding a system which enslaves and subordinates them, which turns them into mere receptacles of male fantasies (…) They remain assigned to their traditional role as women, alienated form their own desires and their bodies in the same way as they remain imprisoned within the “interior” space… (48)



Kreidl does not only deconstruct the language and psychological impact of advertising messages, she also critically examines the gendered stereotypes that are continuously reinforced by popular fiction geared at a female readership, like romance novels and the Austrian Heimat-/ Heftchenroman. Kreidl’s deconstruction of the highly-gendered “Heile-Welt”-topos of the Heimatroman unleashes deadly violence into the pristine, picture-perfect alpine tourist image that Austria likes to promote abroad. In Kreidl’s collection Schnelle Schüsse [9], the female readers’ consumption of ever new possibilities for romantic bliss has turned from “Cinderella Complex” to female aggression: each mini-scenario leaves a man dead in the end.

Excessive consumption – whether of advertising messages or one-dimensional stories of women’s bliss – is a recurring theme in Kreidl’s works, and it results in multifarious degrees of psychological and physical violence in her texts. Kreidl’s work, which simultaneously exposes the violence as it traces the language – or the loss of language – that invariably contributes to it, diagnoses the detrimental effects of consumer culture.



Kreidl’s absence of women’s solidarity in her plays does not proclaim an anti-feminist agenda, but creates an opportunity for revelation and reflection. When Phyllis Chesler published her book Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman in 2001, she expected an enormous backlash from the feminist community

because it was – and still is – problematic, even dangerous, to challenge the politically correct feminist view of women as morally superior. In the past, woman’s “dark side” was routinely exaggerated to justify her subordinate status. In reaction, many feminists have tried to focus only on women’s “bright side” (XI) [10]

In Kreidl’s texts, it becomes clear that, while we may call women the victims in our patriarchal society, the system’s hegemony is maintained by women’s behavior towards each other and towards men. Kreidl’s words create space and are an invitation to examine the effect of consumerism on women’s relationships. They are a valiant attempt to reclaim language, because – as Ludwig Wittgenstein argued in his Tractatus – “die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt” (5.6) [11].

The loss of language inhibits the ability to formulate dissent. The assault with images of beauty creates a desire for physical perfection that can never be attained. According to Margo Maine’s book Body Wars [12], 1.484 lipsticks, 1.324 eye products, and 2.055 jars of skin cream are being bought in America every minute. All of these beauty products total a dollar amount of $24.200 per minute! (cf. 67) Maine points out that approximately “50 cents of every dollar we spend on cosmetics is put back into advertising” (66), which explains why it is largely against the odds for women to feel happy with themselves. Advertising, after all, is about creating a need that only a buyable product can fill.

While Margret Kreidl does not primarily aim to be politically active with her art, as she explains in a Zoom interview in 1996 [13], it is quite obvious that her texts are feminist contributions to very current sociological debates. An examination of such debates within German speaking literature should not take place without acknowledging Margret Kreidl’s highly innovative texts.



[1] – Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 6.6.1998.
[2] – Robert Menasse zu Margret Kreidl. In: Angelika Klammer und Jochen Jung (Hrsg). querlandein. Salzburg und Wien: Residenz, 1995. 123-124.
[3] – Der Satz und die Seite. Selbstgespräch, 25. 12. 2001. In: Hildegard Kernmayer und Petra Ganglbauer (Hrsg.). Schreibweisen. Poetologien: Die Postmoderne in der österreichischen Literatur von Frauen. Milena: Wien, 2003. 233-242.
[4] – Margret Kreidl. Laute Paare. Szenen Bilder Listen +CD. Wien: Edition Korrespondenzen, 2002.
[5] – Tragödie, blond. In: Margret Kreidl. Ich bin eine Königin. Auftritte. Klagenfurt und Salzbug: Wieser, 1996. 89-108.
[6] – Zitiert nach: Alice Schwarzer (Hrsg.). Das neue Emma Buch. München: dtv, 1986. 23-28.
[7] – Grateful Women. In: Udo Borgert (Hrsg.). Women’s Words, Women’s Works. An Anthology of Contemporary Austrian Plays by Women. Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 2001. 237-264.
[8] – Freitag, 2. Januar 1998, S.19.
[9] – Margret Kreidl. Schnelle Schüsse. Wien: Das fröhliche Wohnzimmer-Edition, 1996.
[10] – Phyllis Chesler. Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman. New York, NY: Plume, 2001.
[11] – Zitiert nach:
[12] – Margo Maine. Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies. Carlsbad, CA: Gürze, 2000.
[13] – Tisch, weiblich. Ein Porträt der Autorin Margret Kreidl. Zoom 2/96


Nele Hempel-Lamer


II. Margret Kreidl : Dankbare Frauen | Grateful Women

Barbara Kruger Untitled Your Body is a Battleground 1989

[ Barbara Kruger : UntitledYour Body is a Battleground , 1989 ]

Dankbare Frauen , Komödie


Vormittag im Wohnzimmer
das Fenster ist offen
Meta führt fünf Übungen aus
im blauen Body
Die fünf Tibeter
sie spricht im Rhythmus der Übungen
sie steht gerade auf dem Teppichboden
und streckt beide Arme aus
sie dreht sich aus der Hüfte
sechsmal nach rechts und nach links
META Der Beckenkamm ist mit Fett bedeckt. Fett bedeckt das Hüftbein. Fett ist unter dem Gesäß abgelagert. Fettablagerungen unter der Kniescheibe. Die Beininnenseite ist mit Fett bedeckt. Fett bedeckt Hüftbein und Beckenkamm.
Meta legt sich auf den Teppichboden
sie liegt auf dem Boden
die Arme ausgestreckt neben dem Körper
sie hebt sechsmal gleichzeitig Kopf und Beine
META Fettablagerungen unter dem Gesäß. Am Bein innen Fettablagerungen. Fettablagerungen auf der Hüfte. Fettfalten auf dem Bauch. Fettfalten. Fett bedeckt den Beckenkamm. Fett unter dem Gesäß. Eine Fettablagerung. An der Schenkelinnenseite Fett. Fett auf den Oberschenkeln.
Meta setzt sich auf
sie sitzt auf dem Teppichboden
die Beine ausgestreckt
das Kinn an der Brust
sie hebt ihren Körper mit den aufgestützten Händen
dreimal leicht hoch
META Das Fett auf den Hüften bedeckt das Hüftbein. Fett auf den Hüften. Fett bedeckt Hüfte und Hüftbein. Fettfalten. Fettfalten unter dem Arm. Fett. Fett an der Schenkelinnenseite.
Meta kniet auf dem Teppichboden
die Hände auf dem Hintern
sie beugt sich nach hinten
und dehnt ihre Wirbelsäule

META Fett bedeckt die Hüftknochen. Fett auf den Hüften. Fett am Oberschenkel außen. Fett am Oberschenkel innen. Fett am Oberarm innen. Fett am Oberarm außen.
Meta legt sich auf den Bauch
sie liegt auf dem Bauch
sie stemmt ihren Oberkörper hoch
sie stemmt den Hintern hoch
bis der Körper eine Brücke bildet

META Fett am Knie innen. In der Kniekehle Fett. Fett um die Kniescheibe. Fett unter der Kniescheibe. Fett. Fett unter dem Gesäß. Fett auf dem Gesäß. Fett unter den Gesäßbacken.
Meta steht auf
und atmet tief aus

META Fett.
Meta seufzt
META Das Fett.

Aufführungsrechte : Rowohlt Theater Verlag


Grateful Women – A Comedy*


* Note by the translators : This scene differs substantially from the original German text because of subsequent alterations by the author

Late morning in the living room
the window is open
Meta performs five exercises
in the blue body suit
the Five Tibetans
she speaks in time with the exercises
she stands upright on the carpet
and stretches both arms out
she turns from the hips
six times to the right and to the left

META The pelvis is covered with fat. Fat covers the hipbone. Fat is deposited on the bottom. Fat deposits under the kneecap. The inside leg is covered with fat. Fat covers the pelvis. Fat covers the hipbone and pelvis.
Meta lies down on the carpet
she lies on the floor
arms stretched out next to her body
she lifts her head and legs together six times

META Fat deposits on the bottom. On the inside leg, fat deposits. Fat deposits on the hips. Folds of fat on the stomach. Folds of fat. Fat covers the pelvis. Fat on the bottom. A fat deposit. On the inner thigh, fat. Fat on the upper thigh.
Meta sits up
she sits on the carpet
with her legs stretched out
chin to her chest
she gently lifts her body three times
with her propped up hands

META The fat on the hips covers the hipbone. Fat on the hips. Fat covers the hip and the hipbones. Folds of fat. Folds of fat under the arm. Fat. Fat on the inner thigh.
Meta kneels on the carpet
hands on her bottom
she bends backwards
and stretches her spine
three times
META Fat covers the hip bones. Fat on the hips. Fat on the outer thigh. Fat on the inner thigh. Fat on the inside upper arm. Fat on the outside upper arm.
Meta lies down on her stomach
she raises her upper body
she raises her bottom
until her body forms an arch
three times

META Fat on the inner knee. In the hollow of the knee, fat. Fat around the kneecap. Fat under the kneecap. Fat. Fat under the bottom. Fat on the bottom. Fat under the cheeks of the bottom.
Meta gets up
and breathes out deeply

Meta sighs
META The fat.

Grateful Women . A Comedy , ins Englische übersetzt von Udo Borgert und Laura Ginters – In : Udo Borgert ( Ed. ) : Women’s Words , Women’s Works . An Anthology of Contemporary Austrian Drama by Women – Riverside , Ariadne Press 2001


Margret Kreidl



Margret Kreidl liest :

Text des Monats # 24 @ Literarisches Quartier Alte Schmiede | Liesl Ujvary zu “Ich habe einen Vogel


One Response to Salon Littéraire | Nele Hempel-Lamer & Margret Kreidl : Performing Violence – Dankbare Frauen | Grateful Women
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