Critical moments : Paul Celan and figurations of madness / Derek Hillard.
By focusing on the works of the foremost modern German language poet, Paul Celan, the dissertation aims to provide an account of how post-1945 poetry in the German speaking tradition responds to the 20th century's catastrophe of polities and thought. The dissertation combines careful readings of poems and speeches to a cultural context with discussions of German and French philosophy and psychoanalysis since the 19th century. Celan's ethically informed poetic response to totalitarian politics and genocide, the dissertation contends, is situated in a redefinition of madness. In the 20th century, madness occupies the center of society's concerns, eventually coming to explain the Holocaust as an incomprehensible insanity. Celan takes on this discourse without falling prey to its implications that culture can exist without madness, ethics, and uncertainty. By linking modern political terror with the historical figure of the mad genius, Celan reworks trauma and transforms madness as illusion (Wahn) into what his poems assert is the only knowledge of the world we can have: imperfect opinions. Celan's unique reinterpretation of Wahn, the dissertation claims, is part of his ongoing effort to modify language, for he ultimately looks to language for the deeper causes of the Holocaust. The project traces the ways in which Celan responds to his own illness and the psychological descriptions into which his texts and literary reputation are pressed by locating madness in the very structure of perception and language. In examining a rank of broader issues, including Celan's own illness, ethics, trauma, and the delusionary nature of perception, the dissertation negotiates engagements between Celan's poems and such thinkers as Freud, Foucault, and Derrida, and such writers as Büchner, Trakl, and Holderlin. The irrepressibility of contrasting positions emerges as a persistent feature of all of these engagements.
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