‘Erkenntnistheoretische Maschinen’: Questions about the Sublime in the Work of Raoul Schrott

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Abstract

This paper examines a new mode in recent German poetry. Far from the poetry influenced by the recent re-emergence of ‘pop’ culture, or the ‘Alltagssprache’ and ‘simple Storys’ of much recent writing from the former GDR, a number of poets have concerned themselves with modern science, particularly quantum mechanics and optics. These are among some of the most significant young poets of recent years (Thomas Kling, Franz Josef Czernin, Barbara Köhler, Durs Grünbein, Raoul Schrott etc.), figuring something which might be dubbed a contemporary of the ‘poeta doctus’. This new discourse is interesting enough in itself, as poetry and science have, in the twentieth century at least, often been thought to be diametrically opposed. However, closer examination of this work, particularly that of Raoul Schrott (b. 1964), an ‘emerging’ and, paradoxically, already very distinguished writer, reveals that poetry and science can be understood as pro-foundly analogous; particularly in their use of metaphor. Fascinatingly, the contemporary discourse of science is set alongside classical (mythological) models in his work. They are both understood as finally hopeless projects to humanise the vast indifference of the universe: ‘ein anderes sich in die leere/sagen’. The poem as ‘epistemological machine’ is set to interrogate the places where those human maps, models and vocabularies fail. The real territory of Schrott's work is thus revealed – in Hotels (1995), in essays, in four works of recent prose, and especially in Tropen (1998) – to be the boundaries of perception –sub limes– where the models of human understanding fall away and point beyond themselves to an experience of the ‘sublime’.

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