Speaking from the ruins: Benjamin Fondane's irresigned poetics

Andrew Rubens
Benjamin Fondane (1898–1944) had many vocations, sometimes contradictory: he was a poet and a philosopher, a cineaste and an essayist, a disciplined polemicist and an unbounded absurdist. His varied activities overlap and yet remain distinct, greater than the sum of their parts. An existential horizon animated his life and work. He was a dedicated and original reader of philosophy, but resented its reductions and limitations. It was as a poet that he worked at the limits of what language could
more » ... hat language could capture, playing with this boundary in a search to affirm existence itself. Confounded by the manifestations of modernity and swept up in the major historical events of his era, he brought his literary affinities and his Jewish heritage to bear on the revelatory aspects of catastrophe. Between the messianic potential of the extra-rational and the performance of human utterance he generated a reciprocity between poet and reader even through the inevitable failures of the text. In the ruins of Western culture at the end of the First World War he saw also the ruination of language itself. His poetic response, simultaneously anguished and celebratory, entailed a prophetic, apophatic resistance, a constant renewal which, when seen holistically with his work as a whole, represents what he called irresignation, a going-on without rational expectation of consolation. The thesis develops from the critical foundation of Fondane studies in French (and Romanian, Italian and German) and advances the overdue reception of Fondane's work into English. The first part contextualizes his life, work and styles. The centre of the thesis is a sustained reading of his major poetic sequence L'Exode: Super Flumina Babylonis, informed by my work translating it (in collaboration with Henry King). The third part is a theoretical intervention in regards to Fondane's assertion of the capacities of poetry at the boundaries of rational thought. A profound concern for the stakes of language and ineffability is the filament which weaves these parts together [...]
doi:10.5525/gla.thesis.82273 fatcat:krsqgee6x5ea3kivliqjjc2h4i