Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The perduring sublime: The poetics of post-sublime recovery in the poems of Adam Zagajewski, Miroslav Holub, and Allen Grossman
by Napiorkowska, Marta Maria, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2013, 199; 3568409
Abstract (Summary)

Theorists of the sublime have struggled to make the category coherent because they have collapsed its causes, the experience of the event itself, its subsequent effects on a subject, the symptomatic appearance of those effects in written texts, and the effects such texts have on a readership or audience, all into one concept: "the sublime." However, by slowing down the sublime event, parsing out its stages temporally, and drawing out their distinctive qualities, we not only can make some parts of the total sublime experience effable and coherent, but also we can discover meaning and significance in texts, such as strange or difficult poems, that may otherwise seem to be incomprehensible, irrational, or irresponsible uses of language. In turn, because such sublime texts refer both to experiences and to the subject that has them, such readings invite expanded understandings of human being (noun) and human being (gerund). This hypothesis is not new, but I complicate it by understanding human being through not one but at least three interrelated lenses: existential/experiential, biological/embodied, and social/civilizational. Therefore, to show adequately the sublime event's reputed "interruption of being", its continued relevance to the study of being, and what it reveals about human being, I analyze three types of poetries interested in these three aspects of human being.

In my introductory chapter, I critically review arguments made about the sublime in literary history, both canonical – such as Longinus's, Burke's, and Kant's – and more recent, such as Suzanne Guerlac's, Francis Ferguson's, and Neil Hertz's. I attend to the sublime's delineations as well as its rewards and risks. I differ, however, when I conclude that the cause is a perception that interrupts meaning-making and self-making cognitive processes. I clarify why the experience of the event is reputably private, contingent, and virtually ineffable. I argue that the sublime can only enter public discourse through the logic of symptom, of which poems can be examples. In other words, because poems are in and of language, they show a recovery from the sublime event, to which they can refer but which they cannot represent. I read Sappho's Ode and a section of Wordsworth's "Prelude" to demonstrate the effectiveness of reading poems in this way.

In each of the chapters that follow, I read both typical poems and sublime recovery poems, highlighting the qualities that make a sublime recovery poem recognizable within the context of its respective poet's work. Thereafter, I discuss the consequences of the meaning these poems make. In my analysis, I remain faithful to the terms the poet develops across his body of work.

I introduce the existential sublime event through Zagajewski's poetry. I build the contextual background that the sublime event interrupts through an overview of Zagajewski's more typical Dasein poems. Against this background, his sublime recovery poems emerge. They expand the meaning of human being (gerund) to include atemporal experiences – a virtual contradiction in terms considering that being happens in time and that time plays a strong role in Zagajewski's poetics. As a consequence, I argue, his sublime poems propose to the reader possible being that is non-ethical, asocial, and transcendent and that contrasts with Zagajewski's speaker's more usual ethical stance of praise. They also invite important questions about human consciousness that can reinvigorate our understanding of Dasein.

In chapter three, I examine the biological sublime, an interruption in Holub's organic, empirical context that typically acknowledges both failure and paradox in science, thought, and art. In response, poems act as intensive care for being by holding off the encroachment of non-being, which threatens in moments of failure or paradox. In "Transplantace Srdce," however, Holub's speaker adopts uncharacteristic language associated with sublime recovery and reaches unempirical, rational certainty about being's presence where non-being should be. This conclusion redefines the parameters of embodied being.

In chapter four, I begin with the civilizational sublime, to which Grossman's elaborate edifice of poetic theory and poems, on which he seeks to hang the value of persons, responds. The rupture in civilization is marked by Trinity, the first atomic explosion that entered social consciousness and ushered in the use of nuclear weapons and the ever-imminent threat to repeat sociability's utter failure. Grossman's search for a non-violent account of representation that protects sociability culminates in a collection of poems distinguished by their inclusion of others' speech, which I read as a poetics of courtesy that is not violent. Courtesy requires the simultaneous presence of both the speaker and the one who is offered a chance to speak; otherwise, it fails.

In the Coda, I discuss the relevance of my approach to other theories of the sublime, to the study of poetry, and to the philosophy of consciousness. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hallberg, Robert von
Commitee: Sternstein, Malynne, Zagajewski, Adam
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Comparative Literature
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 74/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, Slavic literature, Philosophy, American literature, Aesthetics
Keywords: Aesthetics, Czech Republic, Grossman, Allen, Holub, Miroslav, Poetry, Poland, Sublime, Zagajewski, Adam
Publication Number: 3568409
ISBN: 978-1-303-22905-3
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