- Avant-Garde Revisited:Else Lasker-Schüler A Brief Introduction
There is a remarkable autobiographical scene in Else Lasker-Schüler's 1911–12 series of texts "Briefe nach Norwegen":
Lebe das Leben ja tableaumäßig, ich bin immer im Bilde. Manchmal werde ich unvorteilhaft hingehängt, oder es verschiebt sich etwas in meinem Milieu, auch bin ich nicht mit der Einrahmung zufrieden. Einrahmungen sind Einengungen, Unkunst, Grenzen, die sich kein Gott, aber ein Gottdilletant zieht. Die runden Rahmen haben noch etwas Kreisendes, aber die viereckigen, neumodischen, sind so ganz menschlich aus dem Kosmos getreten. Ich sehe also aus dem Bilde das Leben an; was nehm ich ernster von beiden? Beides. Ich sterbe am Leben und atme im Bilde wieder auf. Hurrah!(3.1: 232)
The ostentatiously asserted figura etymologica "sein Leben leben"1 intensifies the "semantic force" (Lausberg 91)—the vital force—of the passage, and it does so in the intricate mode of repetition and difference. Here, the "Witz-Zirkel" into which the "Idee" of life enters when it is called up "zum zweiten Male, aber als ihre eigne Widersacherin" and thus experiences itself as similar to "ihrem Nicht-Ich" (Jean Paul 5: 179) is presented via a tableau or image. To live life like a tableau, in other words, would be to intensify the pathos of life and, at the same time, to discern an inherent distance in life, the difference of formation or (aesthetic) design. This echoes the call for a revision of [End Page 547] life through art that characterizes early twentieth-century avant-gardes.2 Yet the echo gives the call a superficial (tableau-like) turn by depriving it of its pathos and bringing out differences that destabilize the revolutionary "reintegration of art in the praxis of life" (Bürger, Theory 99). While reintegration presupposes defining autonomous art via an abstract opposition to the praxis of life, into which art can then be reintegrated, Lasker-Schüler's micrological scene of an "art of life" puts such distinctions up for debate. The passage, which focuses on framings that lift art "aus dem Kosmos," explores the limit between art and life in the autobiographical "ich" and pushes this limit toward the paradoxical. When the "ich" lives "im Bilde" and dies "am Leben," the terms of the distinction become reciprocally inclusive; where the "ich" is supposed to take the separate duality of image and life "seriously," it affirms, in one word ("[b]eides"), the identity of the different. The passage ironically demonstrates the epistemological effects of "deforming" the distinction, effects that alter the knowledge the "ich" has of itself: the "ich" is conspicuously absent from the beginning of the passage where it could have anchored the structure of the first sentence: "[Ich l]ebe das Leben ja [. . .]." It is inserted only after the comma as an "ich" that takes itself to be "im Bilde," in possession of knowledge, even though it is unable to govern the sentence in which it had just conjured up its "Leben" (supposing that it is indeed this "ich" that conjures up its life). The relationship between practical life and art has become more complicated; the two sides of the distinction coexist in a way that "[b]eides" are processed, as if the task were to reciprocally keep an eye on the latencies that arise in the course of this delimitation. This epistemological questioning of limits thus also puts the self-confident (avant-garde) project of revolutionarily transgressing these limits up for discussion.
Against this background, the title of this issue of MLN, Avant-Garde Revisited: Else Lasker-Schüler, designates an alternating reflection: not only does the perspective of the avant-garde frame Lasker-Schüler's oeuvre; her work, inversely, provides a perspective on the procedures of avant-garde artistic currents. This way of situating her, although suggested by the complex orientation of her work, still hardly features in research on Lasker-Schüler on both sides of the Atlantic.3 [End Page 548]
Scholarly discussions of the play IchundIch, written during her exile, shed light on the debates that characterized the reception of Lasker-Schüler's work in German-speaking...