Faithful Form: On Religion and Politics in German Modernist Lyric

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2023

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Abstract

Examining the work of four poets-Else Lasker-Schüler, Georg Trakl, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Paul Celan-this dissertation reveals surprising conjunctions between these poets’ sustained engagement with religious images and concepts and their attempt to organize individuals into collective bodies invested with political agency. It thereby uncovers a political valence within those elements of German modernist lyric that draw upon mytho-poetic and religious traditions to model the formation of political communities. Lasker-Schüler’s poetic revisions of the biblical garden myth explore a form of abject subjectivity that seeks to harness anti-authoritarian energy while simultaneously expressing vulnerability and solidarity with the outcasts of society. Trakl’s poetry prophesies the end of Western civilization on the brink of the First World War and develops mystical practices of kenosis (emptying one’s particular will—or in the case of Trakl, the normativity of collective forms—as preparation for receiving the divine) within the social and political sphere as a response to apocalyptic temporality. Rilke’s poetry uses mystical tropes to undermine the authority of institutions and the naturalization of economic relations while establishing poetry as a gathering place for human communities. Celan’s poetry not only confronts personal, but also political trauma, and in doing so ultimately gestures towards the possibility of liturgy as a mode of association, of solidarity with unknown others. More generally, this dissertation considers the way that poetic practices draw on religious operations and images in novel ways to reimagine emancipatory politics.

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Hoffman, Lukas (2023). Faithful Form: On Religion and Politics in German Modernist Lyric. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/28303.

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