Schreiben am Schnittpunkt: Poesie und Wissen bei Durs Grunbein.
Flaschenpost: German Poetry and the Long Twentieth Century. Ed. by KAREN LEEDER. (Special number of German Life and Letters, 60.3 (July 2007)) Oxford: Blackwell. 190 pp. 14 [pounds sterling]. ISSN 0016-8777.
Both these volumes stem from conferences. The first, at Gottingen University in 2004, was dedicated to a single living poet, the second, at Oxford University in 2005, to an entire century of poets writing in German. Despite these differing remits, both volumes reflect contemporary scholarly interest in poetological poetry, cultural transfer, and the poeta doctus. Both also examine the work of Durs Grunbein.
Grunbein has been publishing for twenty years. His literary reputation is based on a corpus of lyric poetry, recently supplemented by a libretto and a verse epic. In addition, Grunbein is an essayist and translator, especially translating for the stage. Surprisingly, Schreiben am Schnittpunkt explores little poetry directly, prioritizing instead his essays and theatre projects. The volume title, none the less, comes from Grunbein's own designation of the polyphony in his poetry collection Schadelbasislektion: 'ein Schreiben am Schnittpunkt sehr vieler Stimmen'. According to the introduction, Grunbein's double role as both practitioner and theorist is the focus of enquiry. In fact, the first section presents aspects of Grunbein's reception; the second analyses instances of cultural transfer in Grunbein's work; and the final section addresses the role of science in his poetics. Where poetry emerges, contributors emphasize his much-discussed early work and its reception, with only isolated forays into poetry published in the last decade.
The 'reception' section of the volume comprises chapters describing, respectively, how Grunbein has been incorporated into literary histories, reviewed by the cultural critics of newspapers, and received in Italian translation. Interesting chapters in the second section examine adaptations for the stage: Die Perser, 4.48 Psychose, and Berenice. Kai Bremer compares Grunbein's rendering of Aeschylus's Persians with Heiner Mil ler's, discussing this and Griinbein's rendering of Sarah Kane's play 4.48 Psychosis in the context of post-dramatic theatre. Debora Batram considers Grunbein's libretto for the opera Berenice, which adapts Edgar Allan Poe's story. These works represent a process of translation and transfer, which not only reflects Griinbein's concern with adaptation but also relates to Hinrich Ahrend's analysis of his Schadelbasislektion poetry in the following chapter. Ahrend takes the poem 'Inside out outside in' as a demonstration of polyphony, exemplifying a contaminated integration of voices. The concept of cultural transfer recurs implicitly in Stefanie Stockhorst's engagement with Schadelbasislektion: she identifies Auden's 'Ode to the Diencephalon' as a model for Grunbein and discusses the illustrations Grunbein borrows from anatomical textbooks. Her chapter falls in the final section, the longest in the volume, which predominantly focuses on the poetics articulated in Grunbein's early essays. This section takes its cue from Torsten Hoffmann's stimulating chapter on Grunbein's legitimizing of poetry through science. Comparison with Botho Strauss's and Raoul Schrott's reflections on science is utilized by Hoffmann to pinpoint Grunbein's use of it. Chapters by Jorg Wesche and Olav Kramer then synthesize Grunbein's ideas about the poetological significance of cultural memory and of observation. An index of Grunbein's works would have made a helpful addition, allowing navigation between disparate comments on the same texts, such as repeated discussions of Galilei vermisst Dantes Holle, Das erste Jahr, and Warum schriftlos leben?.
This is one of the first volumes of academic essays devoted to Grunbein. It tends to be cautious, often summing up established ideas rather than breaking new ground. In two chapters there are layout problems: entire stanzas and poems are printed as blocks of prose with vertical dashes to mark line-breaks. There is also the factual error 'in der DDR konnte er nicht publizieren': in fact, Grunbein published in both unofficial magazines and the prestigious journal Sinn und Form. These infelicities aside, the volume includes much that is worthwhile as an introduction to an exceptional German writer.
The Flaschenpost volume is as concerned with poetics as Schreiben am Schnittpunkt is, yet here there are many poems to discover besides. In addition to the scholarly essays, many of which present less-known poems, the volume includes nine new poems by Ulrike Draesner and by Michael Kruger. Primarily, contributors examine connections and developments across the fissures in twentieth-century writing. The concept of poetry as a 'message in a bottle' allows explorations of communication and translation in a wide sense--as a transfer across time, across languages, and across traditions. Early essays address transfers from French (Robert Vilain on Valery), Russian (Michael Eskin on Mandelstam), English (Katrin Kohl on Hopkins), and Italian (Judith Ryan on Dante). Others scrutinize developments in subgenres of poetry, going beyond the eras conventionally associated with each: the long poem (Ryan), the Holocaust poem (Wolfgang Emmerich), and the epigram (Hermann Korte). The essays towards the end of the volume stake out traditions of influence--between science and poetry (Karen Leeder) and between women writers of different generations (Georgina Paul).
All contributors to this volume are established scholars who have published widely on German poetry; this is reflected in an impressive assurance of tone and command of the material. Their essays are arranged chronologically by subject-matter, from Vilain's careful analysis of Hofmannstal's, Rilke's, and Celan's dialogues with Valery at the outset, to the interview with Michael Kruger at the close, which ranges widely, and often humorously, perusing the current poetry scene in Germany. The volume encapsulates a spectrum of contemporary approaches to academic writing, with Tom Kindt and Hans-Harald Muller inching over a Brecht sonnet at one extreme, and at the other Georgina Paul's theatrical panache in presenting the struggle for a female-authored canon. This volume actually has much to say about Grunbein too: Eskin addresses his concept of the poet as a Robinson Crusoe castaway, Ryan interprets his verse epics Vom Schnee and Porzellan, and Leeder his engagement with the uncertainty of science. The strength of this volume lies in enquiries that are not author-based, but traverse the century by distinguishing patterns. The poetry is always to the fore, including texts that challenge the limits of familiar corpora. Emmerich, for example, illuminatingly extends the corpus of Holocaust poetry to a sixty-year period.
The idea of poetry as a 'message in a bottle' arrived in German poetics in reflections articulated by Brecht (1942) and by Celan (1958). It recurs, as the stimulating introduction to this volume identifies, in Kunert and Gerlach; it is taken up by the Pastior and Enzensberger poems discussed subsequently. Chapters early in the volume are explicit in their engagement with the concept of 'Flaschenpost', including Kohl's striking exploration of metaphor via insights from linguistics and a plethora of poems as case studies. Eskin's compelling essay on the transfer of Mandelstam's idea of 'Flaschenpost' to the work of Celan, Brodsky, and Grunbein is a pleasure to read. Elucidating the different poetics and ethics behind this reception, he emphasizes how it entails a sense of poetry's intrinsically dialogic impulse, as distinct from Brecht's understanding of 'Flaschenpost'. Later chapters leave the reader to deduce their relation to 'Flaschenpost': they may take it as a passing-on from writer to writer, as Paul's does for women poets; or return to shipwreck, as does Ryan's convincing analysis of twentieth-century verse epics as disaster poems. In sum, this volume is full of fascinating essays, rich in insights from some of the best scholars of German poetry.
RUTH J. OWEN
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|Title Annotation:||Flaschenpost: German Poetry and the Long Twentieth Century|
|Author:||Owen, Ruth J.|
|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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