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Refiguring death: The poetics of transience in the work of Rainer Maria Rilke

Sutherland, Marielle Jane; (2003) Refiguring death: The poetics of transience in the work of Rainer Maria Rilke. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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My thesis explores the role of the work of art in Rilke's poetry in forging a unity between life and death which paradoxically upholds their difference. I turn to the neglected area of the relationship between death and writing, identifying language - specifically the language of poetry - as the place of relation to the difference and otherness of death. Using examples from the Neue Gedichte, and with reference to the later work, I show that the Rilkean 'death of one's own' is a death created in the language of poetic figure or 'Bild', language that opens a recessive space, loosening the rigidity of received language which, driven by its phobia of death's otherness, suppresses and homogenises it. I demonstrate that the 'Other' of the Rilkean death is encountered in the construction of the poetic figure, an excess of language beyond physical, metaphysical, logical and psychological determination. It is in this sense that the Rilkean concept of the 'death of one's own' - the poetological significance of which has not yet been fully elucidated - is a self-made, written death. I argue that in Rilke's work, death becomes one's own if poetry can write a space for it, a language which is precisely not one's own. Rilke's creation of the language of death is the gestation of the imaginal death of his own in the poetic language of anonymity and excess. Crucial to this study is the poetological aspect of the frequently employed term, 'das Schwere'. I suggest that it refers to the difficulty inherent in the orientation towards the difference of death and the parallel difficulty of the transformation into the different reality of art which does not yield a systematic reading. I carry out extensive examinations of the requiem poems of 1908 in which the difficulty of the transformation of death into poetic figure appears most clearly as the axis on which the orientation towards death as extremity, impersonality and otherness takes place.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Refiguring death: The poetics of transience in the work of Rainer Maria Rilke
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Rilke, Rainer Maria
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10100965
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