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  • The Fringe of Beings:The Poetic Thought of Else Lasker-Schüler
  • Gabriel Trop (bio)

I. Introduction

Those who follow attentively the movements of Else Lasker-Schüler's creative work will invariably be drawn to borders, fringes, and seams as points of attraction.1 As one might expect, the border, the fringe, or the seam—each endowed with its specific set of associations and resonances—cannot account for the totality of her writing. An edge can never represent the whole text or the text as a whole. These poetic elements nevertheless belong to a set of strategic markers indicating a zone of poetic intensity toward which her language gravitates. This poetic zone has, as we shall see, its own spatiality and temporality, its own order and disorder of beings, and one can understand why Lasker-Schüler sought to linger within its attractive pull.

While borders, or lines of demarcation that concentrate and often make visible relations of power, can be contested and repositioned, seams and fringes, as localizable textile elements and elements of textuality, are more precarious boundary markers: seams bind and relate, while fringes lay exposed to open space. The seam or fringe therefore merits closer examination as the locus of a specific form of poetic enunciation. Seams can come unraveled, while fringes are subject to fraying in contact with that which lies outside of them; in a more active and affirmative sense, at the seam or fringe, threads [End Page 679] once woven can be more easily undone. Such zones can also intensify stimulation and release energy, perhaps provoking desire or revulsion when an edge comes into contact with something foreign. They therefore comprise strategic sites of the exploration of one's own world in relation to various possible worlds or imaginative possibilities.

Although Lasker-Schüler belongs resolutely to what one calls today poetic modernism, the idea that the shape of a life takes the form of something woven, knitted, or otherwise worked into a textured surface speaks in the language of the most archaic myths.2 One need only recall the Fates of ancient Greek mythology, the moirai or apportioners: Clothó, the one who spins; Láchesis, the one who apportions out lots; and Àtropos, the one who cuts the thread of life, or the one who cannot be turned and is without turn. And if a life, as is often the case in the idiom of poetic modernism, is not woven with a clear purpose—without an explicit guiding model or idea, without discrete beginnings, middles, and endings—one can at least discern in this surface of life filaments and threads that extend in different directions, overlapping, resonating, and binding two points of view: a macroscopic pattern in which one can catch glimpses of order and regularity, and a microscopic chaos in which there is entanglement, variation, and complexity.

By following these threads far enough—the threads of a surface, of an individual destiny, or of life in general—one eventually encounters an edge, a space or a moment where this surface comes to an end or comes into contact with something else: a fringe, a hem, a seam (Saum). The seam differentiates itself from a pure boundary or line of demarcation inasmuch as it partakes in a double indexicality: it often appears as the fold of its own fabric knitted to itself, thereby indicating the internal order, composition, and attributes of the surface, text, or fabric of which it forms a part—some recognizable field of identity even though it might be characterized by an internal heterogeneity. At the same time, it is contiguous with or indicative of something outside of it that is marked by difference, something of which it is not a part, and it thus points simultaneously outside itself to this exteriority.

The seam or hem therefore concentrates two specific poetic operations. On the one hand, the hem (Saum) designates the moment in which a surface or a body folds onto itself to touch empty space. On the other hand, the seam (as a stitch or Naht) can designate contact [End Page 680] with some other material: another surface that it touches or lines, or a surface to which...


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