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(Subterranean) Flows of Honey. Differences in reader’s and author’s knowledge of ancient literature as a means of enriching our perception of contemporary German poetry

Dirk Uwe Hansen. University of Greifswald. Germany.

 

(Subterranean) Flows of Honey. Differences in reader’s and author’s knowledge of ancient literature as a means of enriching our perception of contemporary German poetry

Dirk Uwe Hansen. University of Greifswald. Germany.

hansen@uni-greifswald.de

Summary: Allusions to Classical Literature in a poem would — to be „fully” understood — require a shared knowledge between author and reader of the work or myth in question, one might think. Nonetheless the amount of knowledge in this field shared by author and reader seems to decrease dramatically due to the „little Latin and less Greek” taught in schools nowadays.

Instead of author and reader drawing from a pool of shared knowledge, thus, it will often be the case that the reader knows far less or nothing at all about the work the author is alluding to. A reader of Barbara Köhler’s „Niemands Frau” who does not know Homer’s Odyssee at all would of course miss an important layer of understanding; even without knowledge of Homer in the original Greek he will still read Köhler’s text in a somewhat uncomplete way — this at least seems to be the case.

On the other hand, a reader trained in Classics can easily detect allusions to Classical Literature the author of the poem is not aware of, taking, for example, the honey in Monika Rinck’s „Honigprotkolle” as flowing directly from Pindars Odes.

In my paper I propose to investigate into the question of how this affects the author-reader relationship by means of a number of case-studies of poems by contemporary german poets (up to now: Sonja vom Brocke, Georg Leß, Daniela Danz, Nancy Hünger, Norbert Lange and Tobias Roth, but there are of course more interesting authors and poems to take a look on).

The point I want to make about this is that there is no reason for any kind of „Kulturpessimismus”. Encountering Penelope via Köhler instead of via Homer is not a less worthy way of reading, it rather works on a different level of understanding — maybe not much different from our way of encountering the Muses via Hesiod and not his oriental predecessors.

On the other hand, a Classicist detecting themes or phrases borrowed from ancient sources while the author is not aware of this borrowing (or at least is not aware of the way they took to come into in his or her poem) rather adds a new layer of understanding to the poem.

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