The development of Gottfried Benn's views on lyric poetry, seen in historical context
English-speaking Germanists have shown considerably less interest in Gottfried Benn than their German colleagues. The latter have produced, in recent years, a multitude of critical works, approaching Benn from various angles and arriving at very different conclusions. Outside Germany, the picture is less variegated. The few voices to be heard seem to agree that there is, or may be, some value in Benn's poetic works, but little or none in his theoretical pronouncements. By offering a dissenting view, this thesis hopes to animate the discussion outside Germany and, with due respect, to expose and correct a number of misconceptions that have, in my view, tarnished Benn's image and brought upon him undeserved opprobrium. I shall endeavour to show that Benn's views on lyric poetry form a consistent and significant pattern of thought which defies the many suggestions we have heard of his fickleness, irrationalism, rigid formalism and all-pervading self-contradiction. A diachronic approach seemed best suited to counter the assumption of an essential stasis of Benn's views - an assumption that underlies tacitly most critical discussions of the various aspects of his alleged irrationalism. At the same time, this approach brings out the consistency with which Benn's views developed and crystallized. Three chapters of my thesis are devoted to tracing this development (chapters two, three and four): close interpretations of some critical and literary works, selected to represent the successive stages of Benn's evolving thought, are designed to illuminate and place into context Benn's understanding of the various issues he himself raised and elaborated over the years. From these analyses emerges a poetic theory identical with that presented at Marburg under the title 'Probleme der Lyrik' and discussed, for strategic purposes, in my first chapter. This rather extended discussion has three principal goals: First, to show that Benn, in order to be understood, must be approached as a poet and provocateur who aims at neither accuracy of quotation nor conceptual precision and consistency, but at effective formulation. Second, to present in a new light the salient aspects of Benn's poetological conception. The creative process is shown to be thought of as involving, at all stages, a close co-operation of intellectual and imaginative energies. It is suggested that the 'absolute poem' , as Benn envisages it, is a vehicle of depth and significance whose 'monologic' character activates and affects the reader; that poetic 'montage' aims at the production of an organic whole whose 'fascination' addresses itself to the reader's emotional and cognitive faculties; that the 'transcendence of the creative pleasure' is an aid in life. Third, to call attention to Benn's 'historical' stance which causes him to relate every important aspect of 'modern' poetry to the poetic tradition and invalidates the charge, levelled against Benn from various quarters, that he adopted a progressive pose to present an antiquated second-hand theory. Chapter five deals with the question of Benn's alleged self-contradiction. It argues that 'ambivalence' and 'tension', to be clearly distinguished from 'contradiction', are the principles informing the whole of his poetological thought, endowing it with perspective, depth, and ultimate credibility. In conclusion it is suggested that the generally accepted placement of Benn's poetology at the extreme 'absolute' , 'anti-human' end of the modernist spectrum and, consequently, our evaluation of its historical significance, need to be reconsidered.