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  • The Politics of Dedication:Else Lasker-Schüler's Poems
  • Barbara Hahn (bio)

Sometimes new ideas are not ushered into the world with drums and trumpets; they approach us on doves' feet. Else Lasker-Schüler's book Die gesammelten Gedichte entered the public sphere with a title that doesn't draw particular attention to itself. It sounds rather like the title of a posthumous publication, assembled without too much editorial effort, structured chronologically. Nothing would leave a more distorted impression of the actual contents than this title. Else Lasker-Schüler, a master of creating beautiful and absolutely unusual titles for her books—Styx, Die Nächte Tino von Bagdads, Meine Wunder, Hebräische Balladen—managed to publish this volume as if undercover. Die gesammelten Gedichte—a nondescriptive name for a constellation of poems that challenges its readers.

Letters need an addressee. All the other genres of literary and theoretical writing—poems, novels, essays, and so forth—can do very well without one, but not in the first decades of the twentieth century. This period saw an unprecedented plethora of dedicated texts. The art of dedication seems to have blossomed everywhere but especially in two genres: essays, displaying the art of experimental theoretical writing, and poems; genres that usually do not have much in common. Why then this coincidence?

The story begins—like so many others—with Friedrich Nietzsche. "Frau Cosima Wagner in herzlicher Verehrung und als Antwort auf mündliche und briefliche Fragen, vergnügten Sinnes niedergeschrieben in den Weihnachtstagen 1872" (Nietzsche 1: 754). Friedrich Nietzsche, a young academic who had not yet accomplished much [End Page 720] outside the university when he penned this dedication to a carefully handwritten text, addressed it to the wife of his best friend. Her reply was untainted by enthusiasm: "soll ich Ihnen bekennen, dass ich nicht recht wusste, was ich mit dem 'vergnügten Sinn' machen sollte? Ich kann mir nämlich diesen gar nicht vorstellen" (Wagner 45). As the letter shows, Cosima Wagner deeply disliked the texts Friedrich Nietzsche had dedicated to her. Something was wrong with his gift, a manuscript with the title "Fünf Vorreden zu fünf ungeschriebenen Büchern" (1: 753–92). Write the books, so Cosima Wagner's response, write books instead of dedicating "Vorreden" to me. Address me as you would a man, so we could translate her suggestion. Do not relegate me to the position of a woman. Friedrich Nietzsche had and would continue to dedicate his books to men. As generations of theoretical writers had done before him. When male theoreticians did dedicate a book to a woman, she was a noblewoman who had patronized the author with money, privileges, positions.

Cosima Wagner never played the role of a patroness for young Nietzsche. He was in love with her when he wrote his "Vorreden," when he wrote his dedication. Don't gift me with fragments, she responds. Write books, decent, finished books. But the few lines of Nietzsche's dedication mark the beginning of a new mode of theoretical writing. In the decades to follow, we will find many, many authors who—for very good reasons—had problems writing theoretical "books." They needed—like Friedrich Nietzsche—"Gespräche," dialogues, conversations with women in order to be able to write. Not "Werke" but rather "Wege" as Martin Heidegger would later put it.1

Men, writing as correspondents of women, addressing their theoretical writings to women. "Einmaleins," so the title of one of Friedrich Nietzsche's aphorisms in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. "Einer hat immer Unrecht: aber mit Zweien beginnt die Wahrheit.—Einer kann sich nicht beweisen: aber Zweie kann man bereits nicht widerlegen" (3: 517).

In retrospect, the most productive constellation for theoretical writing would turn out to be not "zwei" but rather four, at least. One writing man and three beloved women. In most cases, we encounter a wife and two lovers, sometimes three wives, one after the other. We might mention Max Weber, whose Protestantische Ethik had—for decades—remained a series of fragments. The posthumously finished [End Page 721] version is dedicated to his wife, Marianne Weber, and to two of his lovers. We find the same pattern with Walter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6598
Print ISSN
0026-7910
Pages
pp. 720-733
Launched on MUSE
2017-09-09
Open Access
No
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