22 June 2005
German poetry in the age of globalisation
In the age of globalisation, is there any evidence of German poems becoming increasingly transnational, of an outflow of German poetry into the rest of world? There are certainly high barriers to this enterprise: the German poem tends towards non-globalisability firstly because it is written in a language confined to a circumscribed area in central Europe, secondly because poetry is the least translatable genre, and thirdly because its commercial viability is extremely precarious. Ulla Hahn pinpoints this dilemma amid reflections on the notion of the poem as a national sound-body: ‘Es ist die Körperlichkeit des Gedichts, die Einheit von Klang und Sinn, die bedingt, daß es nie wirklich international sein kann’ she writes in Poesie und Vergnügen - Poesie und Verantwortung. For few poems translate; they remain themselves only in one language. As a consequence, those which travel well will be in one of the global languages, not German. Furthermore, lyric language is not only inherently territorialised to a greater extent than prose or dialogue, but is also most antithetical to the commercial sphere of activity which primarily defines globalisation. Heiner Müller alludes to this in his 1992 poem ‘Ajax zum Beispiel’ as ‘Die Schwierigkeit / Den Vers zu behaupten gegen das Stakkato / Der Werbung’. Advertising, the propagation of brand identity, globalises; as does the anodyne pop-song, for a similar commercial reason; poetry, however, propagating a cultural identity, does not. The density of lyric language, the multivalent links to different registers and resonances, to regional lifestyle and to cultural tradition, make it least suitable for globalising. German poetry is tied to national identity. This is clear both in the Wende poetry and more widely in the post-1945 period. De-localising poems so as to re-localise them somewhere else exposes the fact that versions in other languages cannot but lose the sense of cultural distance that invited and required translation in the first place.
Posted by Ruth J. Owen at 09:42