Speaking from the ruins: Benjamin Fondane’s irresigned poetics

Rubens, Andrew (2021) Speaking from the ruins: Benjamin Fondane’s irresigned poetics. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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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 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.

Honouring Fondane’s own reservations about definitions, several notions are ventured as conceptual handholds while remaining conditional. Disconsolation, for example, the ongoing desire for an answer to life in the face of the absurdity of such a quest, and the context that engenders irresignation as Fondane’s response; together they are considered through a discussion of literary mood and tone. A certain idea of anamnesis – remembering that some things cannot be adequately remembered – is crucial to the apophatic considerations of the thesis. Crucially, a paradoxical notion of art as a kind of subversive celebration, valuable precisely for its capacity to sustain contradictions, is put forward as a way of following the paths towards which Fondane gestures.

These theoretical concerns are bolstered by comparisons with contemporary poets Laura (Riding) Jackson and Edmond Jabès. The rich and living poetry of L’Exode, with its plethora of voices, forms and experiments, itsancient myth and radical modernity, exemplifies Fondane’s work of recuperation and restitution, his refusal either to resign himself to the status quo or to sweep the slate clean. The thesis explores the ways in which this poetic witness affirms human life and expression from the midst of irony, bitterness and defeat.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > French
Funder's Name: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Salazar-Ferrer, Dr. Oliver
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82273
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2021 06:19
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2021 14:34
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82273
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82273

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