Call for Proposals: Migrations of Lyric Poetry: 1300, 1800 (International DFG Symposium), 27.09.2021-02.10.2021, Villa Vigoni, Menaggio, IT

An international symposium in the field of literary studies will take place under the auspices of the German Research Foundation (DFG) at the Villa Vigoni in Menaggio, Italy, from September 27 to October 2, 2021. The conference will follow the organizational pattern of the DFG’s German Studies Symposia as they have been conducted since the 1970s. The papers will be written in advance, precirculated among the participants and discussed at the conference. 

Recent publications that have reflected on the fundamentals of lyric poetry have often emphasized the parallels between lyrical and sacred speech: the invocation of higher powers, jubilant repetitions, the highly performative use of direct address or the coupling of obscure speech with formal and sonic potency. There is a long tradition of such observations: around 1800, Klopstock observed that “thoughts” such as “God’s omnipresence” can almost only be expressed poetically (“beynahe nicht anders als poetisch”). Around 1300, Konrad von Würzburg arrived at the conclusion that should a wreath of praise worthy of the Virgin Mary exist, it would have to consist of “wilder rîme kriuter”, of strange rhyming herbs. Yet, as Konrad’s subjunctive and Klopstock’s qualifying “almost” suggest, such analogies and affinities neither serve as an argument for the genesis of lyric poetry out of sacred rituals, nor should the long obsolete notion of poetry’s development from religious functionality to aesthetic autonomy be revived. On the contrary, it seems more promising to view such statements as interventions specific to their time: interventions that take part in negotiating the efficacy and claims of validity of different forms of speech, as well as the possibilities of speaking about the transcendent. Likewise, the reciprocal transfers and borrowings between liturgical and lyrical speech, or between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ lyric poetry should be investigated, as well as their accompanying linguistic formulas, semantics, melodies or topoi.  What effects do such ‘migrations’ have, which transformations or transpositions do they entail, and what claims of truth are manifested in them? How can the dynamics of secularization and re-sacralization, of differentiation and convergence be understood more precisely?

At the same time, the handling of the scintillating and risky concept of ‘migration’ should be explored heuristically, not only in distinction to, but also in its interplay with alternative concepts such as ‘transfer,’ ‘transformation’ or ‘circulation’. The symposium will thus investigate how melodies, texts and the media of their transmission change place, and how specifically situated semantics, claims of validity or canonical texts (psalms, Song of Solomon) are detached from their particular contexts and inserted into new ones. Such processes of de- and recontextualization are always reciprocal and multiple: they affect both the initial and the target context. They disturb and alter existing genre or classification schemes and transform what has been dislocated. Like many literary-historical processes, such migrations are only made visible by specific selections (of the original and target contexts, etc.). Such migratory processes are particularly common in the sphere of religious poetry, so it seems, because here traditions of rewriting, reworking and re-composing lead to a unique tension between tradition and innovation, between collective and individual authorship and between the accentuation and concealment of mediality.

With the goal of investigating lyrical migration processes beyond the individual text, the symposium will adopt a selective-constellational approach: taking the lyric poetry of continental Europe as a starting point, we have selected two threshold periods – around 1300 and around 1800 – that are characterized by a particular eagerness to experiment with lyrical forms and reflections on the transcendent. At the turn of the 14th Century, specific transpositions are found between religious, minnelyrical-erotic and nature-philosophical poetry (Marian poetry, Dante, Petrarca), as well as styles situated along the boundary between prose and verse (for example in mystical texts). At the same time, the migrational connections already extend beyond the confines of Europe: at the court of Toledo, for example, the Virgin Mary was praised in the metrical form of Arabic love poetry (Cantigas de Santa María). At the turn of the 19th Century, on the other hand, mundane things were sacralized, religious, political and erotic fantasies of unity blended into one another, and various religious traditions were appropriated and amalgamated (Ancient and Nordic mythologies, Islam, Buddhism, etc.). Theoretical commentaries developed a conception of lyric poetry that remains potent today, but that cannot simply be projected onto pre-modern, singable poetic texts or other linguistic and cultural traditions – despite the fact that, as a result of a fascination with the Middle Ages and the Orient around 1800, exactly this was done. Instead of an ahistorical-transcultural understanding of lyric poetry, tensions between different conceptions of lyric poetry and a plurality of lyrical traditions must thus be taken as a starting point.

In the planned symposium, lyrical migrational processes situated in the periods around 1300, around 1800 or spanning both periods will be elaborated upon. Inner-lyrical migrations (between different genres of lyric poetry, languages, cultures) will be considered alongside processes of exchange and migration with other literary genres and non-literary discursive formations. The symposium is structured by the following four sections, which examine in greater detail (1) semantic transformations, (2) epistemic migrational processes in the context of lyric poetry’s claims of value, (3) the question of the universality or historicity of lyrical forms and (4) the materiality and mediality of lyrical migrations.

1. Semantic Transpositions between Sacred and Secular Lyric Poetry

Chair: Beate Kellner (German Medieval Studies, LMU Munich)

This section will examine transpositions between the semantics of sacred and secular poetry. While previous research in medieval studies has emphasized that lyrical forms established themselves on the basis of religious models, connections and interrelationships between both sides should be taken into account. Not only did the medieval love song prevalent in the European courtly context (troubadour and trouvère poetry, Minnelyrik, Italian school) increase its significance by drawing on religious forms of poetry (such as Marian poetry and mysticism): erotic, nature-philosophical and political phantasms migrated conversely into religious poetry (visible in the Leich, mysticism, hymnody, in Marian poetry or in the sacred Sangspruch).

Against this background, it is vital to question how religious and secular semantics in poetry around 1800 relate to one another. Is secular lyric poetry (for example love poetry) increasingly charged with religious semantics, whether Christian, mythical or a syncretic amalgamation of various European and non-European religious traditions and mythologies? What role do phantasms of unity (unity with God, with nature, pantheistic unity) or expectations of salvation (erotic, religious, political) play in this context? How concrete or diffuse are religious semantics? To what degree is poetry stylized through semantics of transcendence as religion, a substitute for religion or anti-religion and to what extent does it thereby distance itself from Christianity or other religions of divine revelation? How do aesthetic requirements and religious semantics relate to each another? What processes of transformation from secular poetry into religious or vice versa can be observed?

In the period around 1300, semantics and topoi of sin, repentance and remorse, awakening, shaking up and conversion, repudiation and reunification, pleas for intercession, and longing for redemption and salvation can be applied in both spiritual and worldly registers. For the period around 1800, one must ask whether and to what extent these semantics still play a role in lyric poetry and, if not, what, if anything, takes their place. In order to trace the migrations and interrelationships of lyrical motifs, topoi, melodies, genres and the situational framing of speech in their respective associations with religious semantics, one must always also consider their relation to sacred texts (such as the Psalms and Song of Solomon) and to epistemic and institutional contexts (such as the liturgy, ecclesiology, theology, philosophy).

The goal of this section is to trace these historical semantics as well as the diverse functions of the consolidation of spiritual and worldly semantics around 1300 and 1800 (such as reflection, meditation, contemplation, edification, didactics, contrafacture, polemic and parody) in their interrelationship, and  to explore and comprehend the literary and rhetorical strategies of re-semanticization, hybridization, contrafacture, polemic and parody as comprehensively as possible. Examples from European and non-European lyrical traditions are equally welcome.

2. Value, Truth, Origin. Lyrical Discourse and the Interpretation of the World

Chair: Bernhard Huß (Romance studies, FU Berlin)

Lyrik modelliert Welt, indem sie von außerliterarischen Denkformationen epistemische Einstellungen und Lyric poetry models the world by taking epistemic approaches and procedures from non-literary thought formations and in turn projecting them onto social, religious, philosophical and scientific structures. These are movements of epistemic migration and transformation that (should) grant lyric poetry a specific status: such claims of value can remain implicit in lyrical texts, be made explicit by them in poetic self-reflection, or be attributed to them by poetological theorizing. On the one hand, such claims are often accompanied by a rhetoric of origin and originality: of love and lyrical language, of human perception or art. On the other hand, lyric poetry as such is subject to continuous dynamics of exchange, transformation and reformation: inner-literary processes of repetition, permutation and novation form complex interdependencies with extra-literary domains.

In the period around 1300, lyrical perception of the world was configured to a large extent through the textualization of affectivity, of an emotionally tinted attitude towards the fabric of life. This applies above all to love poetry, in which the gender and role relationships of different social environments are brought into acute focus: minne-texts reflect social models and hierarchies in lyrical discourse, idealize these models, but can also ironically distort, break and caricature them. This poetry enters into a reciprocal relationship with social didactics and amorological discourse, and inner-lyrical migrational dynamics also arise between love poetry and political poetry. At the same time, love poetry coincides with the religiously contoured language of clerical-monastical poetry, which draws on biblical-theological intertexts, triggering competing claims of value. In particular, these manifest themselves in the importation of religious-theological and metaphysical models, with which concepts of love are overwritten (Marian poetry, Stil Novo constructions of the donna angelicata, ‘Platonizations’ of love etc.). Conversely, secular textual models of emotivity are transposed into the domain of religion.

In the period around 1800, the dismantling of rule-based poetic norms and a focus on poetic ‘individuality’ unleashed potentials of lyrical speech that drew in a new way on the relationship between the self and the world: visionary, Orphic, and spiritualistic concepts attributed to lyric poetry the ability to achieve metaphysical insight into the origin and essence of the cosmos and man. Lyrical poetry (re-?) gained a dimension of deep substantial truth. As a result, migrations between lyrical and philosophical-metaphysical discourses were intensified. The ‘nationalization’ of literary-historical concepts thus pulled lyrical poetry and political discourse closer together. This motion was complemented by epistemic migrations between lyric poetry and the scientific sphere: not only did a ‘scientific’ viewpoint migrate into lyric poetry, but conversely a technologized civilization was also observed and evaluated from a lyrical perspective.

Taking contrasting sectional views around 1300 and 1800, this section will examine such epistemic migrations surrounding lyrical claims of value and truth. The periods around 1300 and 1800 allow for an analysis of these dynamics before and after the dominance of classical normative poetics, an analysis that usually emphasizes other poetologies than those illuminated here.

3. Invocations: Forms, Functions and Effects of Lyrical Apostrophe

Chair: Eva Geulen (Literary Studies, Leibniz Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin)

According to a classic literary historical narrative, around 1800 the poem becomes an intimate resonating space of the subject’s dialogue with themselves or at most with (usually absent) friends. In German-language poetry, the transition from convivial forms (for example, in the Rococo period) to the sensitive utterance of the soul of the individual author-subject has been described primarily using Goethe as an example. Reference to the enduring upswing in rhetorical apostrophes, i.e. the penetration of lyrically conjured isolation through direct address within the poem and by the poem, is hardly necessary to call into question once again this long-disputed idea of a paradigm shift and an epochal break corresponding to the ‘saddle period’.

Concentrating on apostrophes, however, harbors a heuristic potential with which, beyond negation, alternative ‘migrational histories’ of poetry can be sketched transverse to national historical models. For although the rhetorical universality of the apostrophe – and how universal the apostrophe must first be asked – is an integral part of the particular poem and its internal organization, it also marks a point at which something other than the poem or its speaker(s) comes into view and the text inevitably points beyond itself: to other poems, other speakers, other eras, other spaces and other times.

“Selig wer sich vor der Welt / ohne Haß verschließt / einen Freund am Busen hält / und mit dem genießt.” Goethe’s famous verses from “An den Mond” follow an in this case apparently delayed and unexpectedly conferred fulfillment of an invocation to the Muses or gods (“Lösest endlich auch einmal / meine Seele ganz”). The final apostrophe, however, derives from the tone of the Beatitudes (for example in Matthew); it opens the poem in closing (and therefore paradoxically) to a community of those who close themselves off from the world. Two different apostrophes organize the poem, in the course of which the speaker’s position shifts, and with it the address itself and thus the entire structure of speaker and addressee, of private and public spheres.

Decisive in this section will be the attempt to grasp and analyze lyric poetry, synchronically and diachronically, and above all comparatively, through the logic of direct address. In doing so, attention must first be directed to the familiar forms of address (e.g. the tradition of invoking the Muses, apostrophes to Mary, the Creator and the Trinity and the modifications of these apostrophes), including their institutional contexts and respective place in the poem (for example: beginnings and endings). Thus, the question must be asked: how does one approach texts that are directed towards a community, that have forfeited this original direct reference to an addressee in the process of taking on their written form, but whose remaining invocations open a new social space? The changing functions of appellation will be examined, both in the poem itself and with regard to domains beyond the poem to which its apostrophes point. Finally, forms and functions will be brought into relation with the (perhaps also unintentional) effects of lyrical address that result from performance, musical setting or other changes of medium, but also from transference, translation and revision.

On the horizon of this formulated question, common assumptions – for example about the “Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit” in the period around 1800 as diagnosed by Habermas, but also the thesis of a quasi-universal viability of rhetorical figures – can be put to the test. Above all, however, it will be necessary to unfurl and probe the potential of the logics and practices of lyrical address around 1300 and 1800 in order to achieve a new understanding of the ‘monological’ genre and describe alternative literary histories under the sign of the migrations of lyric poetry.

4. Textual Transfers: Material Migrations of Lyric Poetry Around 1300 and 1800

Chair: Carlos Spoerhase (German Studies, Bielefeld)

At the turn of the 19th Century, Herder promises the readers of his “Volkslieder” a “raw” version of the “Song of a Laplander” (“Lied eines Lappländers”). In reality, his printed version already had a long history of migration behind it. The “song” had been translated from Saami into Swedish, from Swedish into Latin and then from Latin into German. Here we can see a migratory history of the “song” that transverses not only linguistic and geographical, but also genre-cultural and textual-material spheres. Such mechanisms of textual migration are also ubiquitous in the period around 1300. Not only are the central thematic paradoxes of Hohe Minne and the strophic forms and genres of Minnesang and Sangspruch adopted from Romanic cultures: in fact, what we know as Minnesang and Sangspruch first came into being through a process of compilation and textualization that, above all, detached texts from their pragmatic contexts (and largely also from their melodies) and re-contextualized them in composite manuscripts.

This section is dedicated to the concrete forms and formats of lyric poetry’s textual migration around 1300 and 1800, including a special focus on relations of transference that point beyond a European context, for example around 1300 to the Arab world via the Iberian Peninsula and around 1800 to the transatlantic or Ottoman spheres.

This leads to the following questions: in which way are the migration of persons, the mobilizing power of networks and contact zones as well as the transfer of knowledge prerequisites for such textual migrations? How do the dislocations, relocations and transpositions (translations, contrafactures) of lyrical texts relate to literary ensembles and compilations in manuscripts, song and hymn books, florilegia, almanacs as well as periodicals or novels? Is the reproduction and reformatting of lyrical textuality more common, legitimized or varied in a religious than a non-religious context? In what pragmatic contexts is this migration embedded (e.g. liturgical contexts, the ecclesiastical calendar, veneration of saints, practices of piety, rituals, ceremonies)? And how could one reconstruct the cultural labor that is invested in the ‘invisibilization’ of these literary migratory processes, i.e. in the ‘de-mediatization’ of lyric poetry – and that allows Herder to claim that he is presenting a massively mediatized “song” in a “raw” state?

On the basis of these guiding questions, this section will seek to better understand the migration of lyric poetry in both religious and non-religious contexts as a highly mediatized process that has been recorded reflexively by historical actors in a great variety of ways. The heuristic and explicative value of the concept of textual migration, in distinction to alternative concepts or theories such as textual diffusion, transmission, circulation or translation, will thus be probed.

On the Proceeding:

Literary scholars of all philologies (especially non-European literatures), as well as scholars from neighboring disciplines (particularly theology, musicology, philosophy, art history etc.) are invited to the symposium. The number of participants is limited to 35. Prerequisite for participation is a written, in principle ready-for-publication text, as well as the readiness to be present and participate in the discussion on all days of the event. The conference will be conducted in English and German. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered by the DFG, insofar as they are not borne by the participants’ home institution.

Scholars from Germany and abroad, especially younger scholars (however generally not doctoral candidates) are requested to communicate their interest in participating and a proposed topic (max. 1 page) to the organizers of the symposium by September 1, 2020 (to A provisional notification of the acceptance of proposals will follow by the beginning of November 2020.

The written contributions (max. 25 pages at 2.400 characters per page including footnotes) must be submitted by June 1, 2021.

Prof. Dr. Susanne Reichlin, LMU München

Prof. Dr. Eva Geulen, ZfL Berlin
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Huß, FU Berlin
Prof. Dr. Beate Kellner, LMU München
Prof. Dr. Carlos Spoerhase, Universität Bielefeld

You can download the CfP here