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German and European Poetics after the Holocaust

German and European Poetics after the Holocaust: Crisis and Creativity

Gert Hofmann
Rachel MagShamhráin
Marko Pajević
Michael Shields
Volume: 100
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    German and European Poetics after the Holocaust
    Book Description:

    Crisis presents chances for change and creativity: Adorno's famous dictum that writing poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric has haunted discourse on poetics, but has also given rise to poetic and theoretical acts of resistance. The essays in this volume discuss postwar poetics in terms of new poetological directions and territory rather than merely destruction of traditions. Embedded in the discourse triggered by Adorno, the volume's foci include the work of Paul Celan, Gottfried Benn, and Ingeborg Bachmann. Other German writers discussed are Ilse Aichinger, Rose Ausländer, Charlotte Beradt, Thomas Kling, Heiner Müller, and Nelly Sachs; concrete poetry is also treated. The final section offers comparative views of the poetics of European literary figures such as Jean Paul Sartre, André Malraux, and Danilo Kis and a consideration of the aesthetics of Claude Lanzmann's film ‘Shoah’. Contributors: Chris Bezzel, Manuel Bragança, Gisela Dischner, Rüdiger Görner, Stefan Hajduk, Gert Hofmann, Aniela Knoblich, Rachel MagShamhráin, Marton Marko, Elaine Martin, Barry Murnane, Marko Pajevic, Tatjana Petzer, Renata Plaice, Annette Runte, Hans-Walter Schmidt-Hannisa, Michael Shields, Peter Tame. Gert Hofmann is a Lecturer in German, Comparative Literature, Drama, and Film and Rachel MagShamhráin is a Lecturer in German, Film, and Comparative Literature, both at University College Cork; Marko Pajevic is a Lecturer in German at Queen's University Belfast; Michael Shields is a Lecturer in German at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-766-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Gert Hofmann, Rachel MagShamhráin, Marko Pajević and Michael Shields

    In this sixty-fifth anniversary year of the end of the Second World War and the liberation of Auschwitz, we are fast approaching the eight-decade death-knell for all “lebendige Erinnerung”¹ (living, or communicative, memory) of the Nazi genocide. It would seem, then, that we have reached another critical milestone on our path backward into the future. As the last witnesses, survivors, and perpetrators pass out of real time, the imperative of Holocaust remembrance and attendant conundrum of how to express that re-presented past, seems to be entering a new and particularly perilous phase, one that will soon be exclusively characterized by...

  5. Part I: Poetics after Auschwitz

    • 1: The Poetics of Silence: Nelly Sachs
      (pp. 19-34)
      Elaine Martin

      Two clear directives from two highly significant figures in the field of post-Shoah art: both Nelly Sachs and Theodor W. Adorno recognized the formidable task confronting writers attempting to find new literary tools to express the horror of the Shoah in artistic form. Both were acutely aware of the dilemma facing the post-Shoah artist: the absolute necessity of giving voice to the suffering and the impossibility of doing so adequately. Both recognized the irreparable fissure that the Shoah had left in its wake; art’s new task was to find means of presenting the reality of this fissure. In much of...

    • 2: “Flaschenpost” and “Wurfholz”: Reflections on Paul Celan’s Poems and Poetics
      (pp. 35-52)
      Gisela Dischner

      While Gottfried Benn spoke of the monologic character of the poem, “the poem, addressed to nobody,” Celan insisted on the dialogical nature of “every true poem.” In any case, both refer very often to a “you” in their poems, which can be the lyrical ego, a beloved woman, or even the reader.

      In his concept of dialogue, Celan was influenced by the Russian poetical movement of Acmeism (from Greek acme: peak or culmination), a literary group formed as a counter to symbolism. It brought together poets such as Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova and Nikolaj Gumilev in 1912–13. When he...

    • 3: History and Nature in Motion: Paradigms of Transformation in the Postwar Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann
      (pp. 53-68)
      Marton Marko

      At the time of Ingeborg Bachmann’s premature death at age forty-seven in a 1973 apartment fire in Rome, she was a leading figure of the postwar Central European literary scene as a poet, essayist, critic, prose writer, and radio playwright. In the voluminous critical discussion of Bachmann, focused largely on the self-reflection of language as a theme in her writing, there has as yet been little attention given to the relationship between language and nature in her work. While aspects of the natural are significantly visible throughout her writing, nature imagery is particularly present as a motif in her lyrical...

    • 4: Mourning as Remembrance: Writing as Figuration and Defiguration in the Poetry of Rose Ausländer
      (pp. 69-87)
      Annette Runte

      The bunch of lilacs Rose Ausländer felt transformed into on her ninth birthday turns up as a rejected souvenir in one of her symbolist Gettomotive poems (Ghetto Motifs) she wrote between 1942 and 1944.¹ “Warum verfolgt mich noch ein Traum? / Ich rieche Flieder durch den Schlaf. / Verlaß mich, blauer Fliederbaum! Es ist kein Glück, daß ich dich traf.// Kann es bei uns noch Frühling sein?” (GW 1:144–45; Why does a dream still pursue me? / I smell lilacs in my sleep. / Abandon me, blue lilac tree! / It is not good fortune that made us meet...

    • 5: On the Fringes: Mistrust as Commitment in the Poetics of Ilse Aichinger
      (pp. 88-106)
      Marko Pajević

      Ilse Aichinger made her first appearance in the German-speaking literary landscape in 1946 with her short prose text Aufruf zum Mißtrauen (Incitement to Mistrust), at the age of twenty-five. It was striking. She presented her appeal as a homeopathic remedy: the individual should call him- or herself into question, in order to avoid going astray on greater questions. “Der Klarheit unserer Absichten, der Tiefe unserer Gedanken, der Güte unserer Taten! Unserer eigenen Wahrhaftigkeit müssen wir mißtrauen!” (We must mistrust the clarity of our intentions, the profundity of our thoughts, the goodness of our deeds! We must mistrust our own truthfulness!)...

    • 6: Nazi Terror and the Poetical Potential of Dreams: Charlotte Beradt’s Das Dritte Reich des Traums
      (pp. 107-122)
      Hans-Walter Schmidt-Hannisa

      This simple but intricate meta-dream, about dreaming in defiance of a prohibition against dreams, was dreamt by an anonymous young man in Germany in the summer of 1933. Its starting point is, as it seems, the fear that dreams might be forbidden. It is hardly surprising that such an idea should emerge in a document coinciding historically with the establishment of a totalitarian regime. However, the man’s dream expresses both the fear that dreams may be forbidden and the knowledge that dreams cannot be forbidden, that it is impossible to stop them.³ The compromise offered here is a form of...

  6. Part II: Tradition and Transgression

    • 7: Between Kahlschlag and New Sensibilities: Notes toward a Poetics of Thought after Gottfried Benn
      (pp. 125-136)
      Rüdiger Görner

      One main poetic, philological, and, in parts, philosophical project after 1945 was the “purification” of the ideologically corrupted German language. From Victor Klemperer’s Lingua tertii imperii to Karl Jaspers and Dolf Sternberger’s periodical Die Wandlung (1945–49; The Transformation) to the latter’s Aus dem Wörterbuch eines Unmenschen (1957; From the Dictionary of an Inhuman Person), the common aim was to enable German to regain its linguistic credibility. Their aim was not only to rid German of its Nazi jargon but also to shed light on the language’s darker zones from which this jargon had emerged. The question that troubled these...

    • 8: “Barely explicable power of the word, that separates and conjoins”: Gottfried Benn’s Problems of Poetry and Its Poetology of Existence
      (pp. 137-157)
      Stefan Hajduk

      Gottfried Benn’s oeuvre is important for the history of German postwar poetics not least because it exemplifies the relationship between crisis and creativity that marks the period. In Benn’s own crisis period of inner emigration after 1934, culminating in 1938 with the Nazi ban on publishing his work, a ban that was continued under Allied occupation until 1948 because of Benn’s initial support of National Socialism, continuities, interruptions and new beginnings are discernible in the content, form, and particularly the poetics of his work.

      In terms of continuity, for instance, poetic subjectivity occupies a central position during this period at...

    • 9: Concrete Poetry
      (pp. 158-169)
      Chris Bezzel

      As late as 1985, but still before he had won the Nobel prize, Günter Grass, who was growing up while the Nazi ban on so-called entartete Kunst (degenerate art) was in force, publicly declared his contempt for abstract art.¹ Already as early as 1960, when he was freshly famous after the appearance of Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) in 1959, Grass had termed the avant-garde poet Franz Mon a “laboratory poet.” That was in a speech on poetry held at a writers’ conference held in Berlin.² Grass’s remark was an allusion to Gottfried Benn, who had spoken favorably in 1954...

    • 10: Heiner Müller: Discontinuity and Transgression
      (pp. 170-179)
      Renata Plaice

      Heiner Müller belongs to those writers who were strongly influenced by the poststructuralist critique of metaphysics. The absence of a positive ideal and value system to which literature could relate impacted not only the aesthetics of Müller’s works, but also his reflections on history. Living in the GDR, he could observe the crisis of dialectics. In a situation of lost origins, the dialectical process of revolution can no longer mean progress but is instead presented by Müller, as we will see, as a constant deconstructive cycle of revolution and counterrevolution, leading to perpetual violence.

      Heiner Müller’s works find themselves on...

    • 11: Let’s Begin, Again: History, Intertext, and Rupture in Heiner Müller’s Germania Cycle
      (pp. 180-199)
      Barry Murnane

      If writing after Auschwitz is, to quote (again) Adorno’s seemingly timeless dictum, barbaric, then Heiner Müller’s Germania cycle is, arguably, more barbaric than most.¹ From the early poem “LACH NIT” (Laugh Ye Not) to the posthumously published Germania 3 Gespenster am Toten Mann (Germania 3 Ghosts at/on the Dead Man), these texts are populated by violent cannibals, petrol-slugging dictators, vampires, ghosts and murderers.² Müller espouses a form of barbaric creativity as a response to barbaric German history. This group of texts and themes, which Müller periodically revisited and amended from the early 1950s until 1995, seems to take Adorno’s critical...

    • 12: Rupture, Tradition, and Achievement in Thomas Kling’s Poetics and Poetry
      (pp. 200-216)
      Aniela Knoblich

      When did the postwar era end? Well, that depends, might be the most appropriate answer — it depends on the interests of whoever is answering the question, whether we are talking about politics, economy, culture, etc. Possible answers may range from the opinion that we are still dominated by postwar paradigms to the conviction that it is not, in fact, valid, to speak about a postwar era as such. When it comes to literature, we are accustomed to applying the term “Nachkriegsliteratur” (postwar literature) to literary texts that were written after 1945 and deal either with the atrocities of the Second...

  7. Part III: Comparative Explorations in European Poetics

    • 13: Sartre and His Literary Alter Ego Mathieu in Les Chemins de la liberté (1938–49): From the Roads to an Abstract Freedom to the Roads of Authenticity
      (pp. 219-235)
      Manuel Bragança

      Philosopher, novelist, playwright but also political theorist and literary critic, Sartre (1905–80) is the major intellectual figure of postwar France and one of the most influential twentieth-century thinkers. Critics have long established that an autobiographical dimension can be found in most, if not all his work.¹ However, apart from his autobiographical essay Les Mots (Words),² it is undoubtedly in the trilogy (or unfinished tetralogy) Les Chemins de la liberté (The Roads to Freedom) that Sartre identifies himself most clearly with his main character, Mathieu.³ Published posthumously, the second quotation of the epigraph demonstrates that Sartre admitted this identification in...

    • 14: André Malraux and Oswald Spengler: The Poetics of Metamorphosis
      (pp. 236-252)
      Peter Tame

      The twentieth century experienced two world wars that caused an enormous loss of human life. The First World War traumatized participants to the extent that the nations involved in the conflict emerged fundamentally changed from the experience. It was this trauma that prompted Oswald Spengler to write his monumental Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West),¹ the first edition of which appeared in 1918, a revised edition following in 1922. The Decline of the West is ostensibly a work of cultural history; however, the fact that parts of it are written in a lyrical, semi-poetic style, and that...

    • 15: Freud’s Brain in the Snow: Catastrophe and Creativity in the Poetics of Danilo Kiš
      (pp. 253-266)
      Tatjana Petzer

      In the face of catastrophes such as the Shoah, poetry assumes the functions of memory, communication and the creation of meaning within the trauma’s topographies of the “unspeakable.” It supersedes other symbolic systems that are unable to cope in such contexts. In order to shed light on the precise impact of catastrophe on literary creativity,¹ this article looks at the post-Auschwitz poetics of Danilo Kiš (1935–89), a Yugoslav writer of Hungarian-Jewish-Montenegrin descent whose work engages in a search for new aesthetic forms of remembering the Jewish past.² The following will outline the artistic techniques which Kiš applied or developed...

    • 16: Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and the Aesthetics of Ohnmacht
      (pp. 267-272)
      Gert Hofmann

      The “aesthetics of non-power” of the title is a reference to the idea and discourse of an aesthetic or poetic theory of human trauma, a theory that pursues the idea of the purely aesthetic manifestation of a new radical humanism. This process necessitates investigating the aesthetic means available to the human subject to survive the attacks on, or indeed annihilation of, its cultural, intellectual, and physical existence.¹

      As the subject of Ohnmacht (non-power), it escapes the violent grip of power, including the power of knowledge, and asserts and re-affirms itself through an aesthetic reflection upon the experience of trauma and...

  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 273-294)
  9. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 295-300)
  10. Index
    (pp. 301-310)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-311)