Emergency poetry : lyric production in the concentration camps / by Andrés José Nader.
This dissertation analyzes poems written by inmates in the National, Socialist ghettos and concentration camps. While it refers to works in other languages, it focuses on German-language texts by authors such as Hasso Grabner, Alfred Kittner, Ruth Klüger, Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, Fritz Löhner (Beda), Karl Schnog, Georg von Boris, and Ilse Weber. The dissertation traces the reception and publication history of their writings from the camps. It asserts that though often dismissed as contingent and historically bound, these poems deserve the renewed attention they have begun to receive in the 1990s due to the increased prominence of oral history and trauma studies. An examination of this poetry makes evident particular patterns such as a certain rhyming scheme or a given narrative strategy. From a psychoanalytic perspective, one can generalize about typical coping mechanisms, among them the avoidance of direct representation of the perpetrators, disavowal, and the projective displacement of the author's own powerlessness. However, one of the main arguments here is that poems from the concentration camps evince multiple modes of responding to the events. They thus challenge monolithic conceptions of trauma and simplified histories of circumstances in the camps. Indebted to theories of trauma as formulated by psychoanalysts like Dori Laub and theorists like Cathy Caruth, this thesis works against ahistorical mystifications of trauma and the Holocaust. It maintains that careful textual scrutiny reveals how individual cultural and political backgrounds shape responses to inhuman conditions. In terms of aesthetic ideology, these poems show that poetry was not only possible in the camps but also perhaps “useful” to some inmates. They demonstrate the enduring power of “old forms” in critical situations and suggest that classical meter, conventional rhythm, and rhyme provided the needed sense of order and stability. Poems from the camps present a stark contrast to the stylistic experimentation, ellipsis, and fragmentation of post-Holocaust poetry of the kind Paul Celan eventually wrote. This dissertation argues that traditional poetic forms, even in their complex relation to conservative and hegemonic cultures, provided the necessary structure for expressing the “inexpressible” in the camps.
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