The Poet’s Lineage and her Vocation
Key to understanding the writing and art of Else Lasker-Schüler is the suspension of the boundaries between life and art and between artistic media and genres, thereby resisting the gender fixations and academicprescriptions of an outdated patriarchal system. Expressed in content and in form, these subversive traits also point to Lasker-Schüler’s self-reflexive contemplation of the vocation of the poet and of an entire generation of avant-garde artists. Manifest throughout her entire oeuvre, including her most intimate letters, the early prose texts in Die Nächte Tino von Bagdads (»The Nights of Tino of Baghdad«, 1907) are a central example. In this volume, the female poet Tino is placed within a tradition in which the night, as passage and metaphor, provides a chance for survival through the art of story-telling (in the legacy of One Thousand and One Nights), as well as the opportunity for undoing the division between high and low culture – as in the satirical novel Die Nachtwachen des Bonaventura (»The Night Watches of Bonaventura«) from 1912 – and for questioning the sacred status of the poet: in the two poems that open and close the volume, for example, the poetic self expresses a sense of being protected by the foliage of darkness and the stars of the night, despite the larger existential threats posed by age and kin. This early heterogeneous volume, in an anti-bourgeois thrust, demands from the poets not to succumb to the tastes of consumers, yet it also calls for a certain self-deflation of the poet. Indeed, in »Der Dichter von Irsahab« (»The Poet of Irsahab«), the poet »disappears into her text as a poetic letter« when the figure of Tino is replaced by Grammaton (meaning »letter« in Greek). Grammaton, moreover, rebels against his patrilineage in an act of writing that seeks to annul the authoritarian text, as well as language as such. We find the splitting of the self in various forms, most poignantly in the 1942 play IchundIch (»I and I«), written in exile in Jerusalem, in which Lasker-Schüler continues to ponder the poet’s vocation in the face of fascism, censorship, and exile, on the worldly and heavenly plains.
Vivian Liska, »The Birth of the Poetess from the Spirit of the Avant-Garde: Else Lasker-Schüler’s Die Nächte Tino von Bagdads«, MLN 132 (2017), 556-574.