Academic journal article German Quarterly

Falling to the Stars: Georg Trakl's "In Venedig" in Light of Venice Poems by Nietzsche and Rilke

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Falling to the Stars: Georg Trakl's "In Venedig" in Light of Venice Poems by Nietzsche and Rilke

Article excerpt

In "Tod in Venedig," Thomas Mann describes Venice as "die unwahrscheinlichste der Städte" (IV 578). Situated between Orient and Occident and hovering between this world and an underworld, Venice beckons with its improbable charms. As Rilke sees it, "Venedig will geglaubt werden" (Briefe 1914-21 IV, 203). Venice not only expresses the manifold fullness of Western culture, but it also asks to be believed. It invites an interlocutor, and as the narrator in Mann's story remarks, it possesses "eine unwiderstehliche Anziehungskraft" (IV 574). The question that this essay poses is whether one can accept that invitation, surrender to the city's spell and, unlike Mann's Aschenbach, still chart a course out of Venice. In the poems under consideration here, Venice becomes a trope for a metaphysical or self-enclosed totality in which one hovers between this world and the underworld or between Orient and Occident. Venice expresses the manifold fullness of Western culture because the dichotomies it both invites and reflects are the cultural and existential determinants of the self's attempt to anchor and orient itself. Venice, in other words, is a self-organizing principle. But as this chiasmus suggests, all moves in Venice are prescribed; one world merely mirrors the other. As will be shown, those who write about Venice only reproduce this discourse of self-mirroring, and that discourse proves to be as irresistible and inescapable as the city itself. On the basis of Venice poems by Nietzsche and Rilke, I intend to show how Venice comes to stand in for the impossibility of the self to escape its own dialectic or metaphysical enclosure. While Nietzsche's and Rilke's poems on Venice fail to allow for the self's escape, the potential for such an escape is realized in a Venice poem by Georg Trakl for which I will trace its subversive strategy.

I. The Clever Self: Nietzsche's Venice Poem

An der Brücke stand

jüngst ich in brauner Nacht.

Fernher kam Gesang:

goldener Tropfen quoll's

Über die zitternde Flache weg.

Gondeln, Lichter, Musik

trunken schwamm's in die Dämmrung hinaus

Meine Seele, ein Saitenspiel,

Sang sich, unsichtbar berührt,

Heimlich ein Gondellied dazu,

Zitternd vor bunter Seligkeit.

-Hörte Jemand ihr zu?... (Nietzsche VI, 291).

Nietzsche's Venice poem appeared in its final form in 1888, untitled and part of a larger discussion about music, entitled "Intermezzo." That discussion was incorporated into Nietzsche contra Wagner. Only later was the poem transferred to the seventh section oiEcce Homo, "Warum ich so klug bin." The originary experience of the poem appears to contrast sharply with the frequent self-citation that characterizes Ecce Homo and is hardly consistent with the glib, parodie, and often self-congratulatory tone of the work (Allemann 46). Whereas in Ecce Homo Nietzsche often appears to be a "Hanswurst," parodically citing and overcoming the originary claims of much of his work, the poem " Venedig" apparently privileges the primary experience. The experience that inspired the poem, Nietzsche later recalled, occurred in 1885 on his last night in Venice as he listened to theArsenalotti on the Grand Canal: "The final night at the Rialto Bridge brought me to a type of music that brought me to tears" (as cited, Grundlehner 299). It is worth noting the double movement described by the statement: he is brought to the music only to have it brought back to him. Music, as we know, represents for Nietzsche a translation of the images that initially confront us. Already in Die Geburt der Tragodie he had written, "... das Wort, das Bild, der Begriff sucht einen der Musik analogen Ausdruck und erleidet jetzt die Gewalt der Musik an sich" (1,49). The primary identification with the power of music leads, on the one hand, to an initial valorization of the image as the only possible poetic expression of that originary principle. On the other, it prepares for a dismissal or renunciation of that image as nothing other than appearance. …

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