Internationale Konferenz: „Word and Mystery II: Angelic Poetry“, Santiago de Chile (18.-19.10.2018)

Word and Mystery II: Angelic Poetry | Universidad de los Andes, Santiago de Chile

Datum der Veranstaltung: 18.-19. Oktober 2018

19th and 20th century poetry is populated conspicuously with angels, a phenomenon that can be partially explained by the connotation of the Arts as sacred, developed throughout Romanticism, and continuing to resound ever since.

Several poets, from Hölderlin to Ernst Meister, and Mallarmé to Jean Cocteau, claim an intimate relation to, or brotherhood with, angels. As supposed recipients, and subsequent transmitters, of a divine or supernatural message, they may identify with angels directly or may regard them akin to a muse or writing ground marking the beginning and end of poetic creation (for Rose Ausländer, the angel is “below the verses”). In addition, this motif is attractive for modern lyricists in itself: being purely spiritual, the angel is beyond description and thus necessarily evokes the topic of ineffability (Rilke). In proportion to the increasing metaphysical skepticism towards the turn of the 20th century, the angel seems to become unattainable, while simultaneously ever more longed-for on the part of poets (“Creatures, where are you that hold the words in ourselves?”, Ernst Meister, Flut und Stein).

In the context of the disillusioned view of a “Christianity in ruins” (Friedrich), the motif can also be reversed to become the fallen angel—including the fallen angel-poet, as Rimbaud was regarded by his contemporaries—or declared a dead relic of the past in elegiac swan songs (Trakl, Alberti).

Strikingly, poetic speech about angels often turns into, or is accompanied by, poetological reflections concerning the speech of angels, that is, the possibility of angelic communication. Consciously or not, several poets take up speculative scholastic positions about angels’ purely intuitive exchange of ideas, i.e., transmitting messages without material or medial (linguistic) disturbance (Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura). In this manner, the human impossibility of sign-less and silent communication, declared a poetic ideal (Mallarmé, Hofmannsthal), is not only made concrete by the figure of the angel, but also gains a theoretical background in scholastic philosophy. As Ehmann (“Die Sprache der Engel”) indicates, this particular relation between modern language skepticism and the tradition of angelology remains to be analyzed.


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