This essay considers the problematic presence of the inanimate in elegiac form. Focusing on Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016) as translator/elegist of Paul Celan (1920–1970), this essay argues that Hill’s poetry responds to the challenge of addressing the nonliving by way of Celan’s own poetics of the inanimate. This doubled incorporation of the inanimate puts under pressure concepts of poetic form and of reading that are structured by organic animation. Hill’s poems emerge as structured by a principle of inorganic production that finds its aesthetic paradigm in Kant’s concept of “crystallization.” Reading the emergence of nonorganic processes from organic spaces in Hill’s work, the reemergence of a postindustrial pastoral in elegiac form, and the translation of the crystal-image of ice from Celan’s poetry into Hill’s own, this essay addresses the possibility of thinking form as a nonorganic process in elegy, and of thinking an elegiac poetics of form.
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Research Article| December 01 2022
Elegy, Form, and the Inorganic: Geoffrey Hill, Paul Celan, Ice
Jacob McGuinn is lecturer in English and comparative literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, and assistant professor in English at Northeastern University London. His work on poetry and philosophy has appeared recently in Textual Practice, Modern Language Notes, and Post45, and his current book project focuses on Celan, Adorno, and Blanchot. He also works on issues in translation, recently as a member of the AHRC Radical Translations project at King’s College London.
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Twentieth-Century Literature (2022) 68 (4): 389–408.
Jacob McGuinn; Elegy, Form, and the Inorganic: Geoffrey Hill, Paul Celan, Ice. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 December 2022; 68 (4): 389–408. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10237769
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