"The Space of Words"

"The Space of Words"

Exile and Diaspora in the Works of Nelly Sachs

Jennifer M. Hoyer

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A new evaluation of one of the most significant Holocaust poets, Nelly Sachs (1891-1970), offering the first sustained critical analysis of Sachs's largely unanalyzed pre-war poetry and prose.

Nelly Sachs (1891-1970) has long been regarded as one of the most significant Holocaust poets. Her conception of language and words as a landscape has been understood by scholars and critics as an exilic ersatz Heimat for the lost German homeland of a displaced poet. This reading, however, is based entirely on her postwar poems. Such an isolated approach to her complex body of work is increasingly historically problematic; it is also at odds with Sachs's generally cyclical poetic process.
In "The Space of Words," Jennifer Hoyer offers the first sustained critical analysis of Sachs's largely unanalyzed prewar poetry and prose, as well as the first analysis that examines structural and thematic ties between the prewar works and the Nobel Prize-winning postwar poetry. Through close readings of both Sachs's prewar and postwar works, Hoyer reveals a diasporic rather than exilic conception of the landscape of language, a position of constant wandering rather than static longing for return. This diasporic poetics promotes the intellectual and linguistic power of the wanderer and opens new insights into Sachs's essential significance as a Holocaust poet and a twentieth-century German-Jewish writer wary of the link of literary language to geopolitics and the narrative of nations.

Jennifer M. Hoyer is Assistant Professor of German at the University of Arkansas.

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Table of Contents

"An Stelle von Heimat": An Introduction
Biography of the Poet:: "a frail woman must do it"
Wandering and Words, Wandering in Words
Sach's Merlin the Sorcerer: Reconfiguring the Myth as Plural
Poetic Space after the Abyss
Israel Is Not Only Land: Diasporic Poetry
Relearning to Listen: Sachs's Poem Cycle "Dein Leib im Rauch durch die Luft"


Jennifer M. Hoyer's book takes a long-needed fresh look at [Sachs's] works and public persona . . . . [It] draw[s] on fascinating Jewish discourses of space and language. It places Sachs provocatively in proximity to "countermonument artists" such as Art Spiegelman and far from the image of a non-intellectual writer of memorializing monuments. . . . One of the merits and innovations of Hoyer's study is the analysis of two whole cycles of poems, "Flügel der Prophetie" . . . and "Dein Leib im Rauch durch die Luft" . . . . Few previous critics have seen the desirability of a cyclical reading of Sachs's poems; even fewer have attempted such a reading. There is much to be learnt from Hoyer's cyclical readings . . . . [I]nteresting, innovative, and noteworthy . . . . [W]ill provoke discussion and debate for scholars of Jewish Studies and of German Literature . . . . MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW

Hard, wearying, detailed academic toil has clearly gone into producing this book. . . . The result is more than admirable, and fascinating. There is too little space to even begin with the details, but through them the richness of Sachs' work is clear. MANCHESTER REVIEW OF BOOKS

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