Lyric Poetry, Conservative Poetics, and the Rise of Fascism
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As fascist movements took hold across Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, there emerged a body of lyric poetry concerned with revolution, authority, heroism, sacrifice, community, heritage, and national identity. While the Nazi rise to power saw the deception, persecution, and brutalization of conservatives both in the Reichstag and in the streets, these themes resonated with fascists and conservatives alike, particularly in Germany. Whether they welcomed the new regime out of fear or opportunism, many conservative beneficiaries of National Socialism shared, and celebrated in poetry, the same ideological principles as the fascists. Such thematic continuities have made it seem as though certain conservative writers, including T. S. Eliot, Stefan George, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, were proto-fascist, their work cohering around criteria consonant with fascist ideology. My dissertation, however, emphasizes the limits of such cohesion, arguing that fascist poetry rejects, whereas conservative poetry affirms, the possibility of indeterminacy and inadequacy. While the fascist poem blindly believes it can effect material political change, the conservative poem affirms the failure of its thematic content to correspond entirely to material political reality. It displays neither pure political commitment nor aesthetic autonomy, suspending these categories in an unresolved tension. Paul de Man's work on allegory hinges on identifying a reading practice that addresses this space between political commitment and aesthetic autonomy. His tendency to forget the immanence of history, however, is problematic in the context of fascism. Considering rhetorical formalism alongside dialectical materialism, in particular Adorno's essay "Lyric Poetry and Society," allows for a more rounded and ethical methodological approach. The poetic dramatization of the very indeterminacy that historically constituted conservative politics in late-Weimar Germany both distinguishes the conservative from the fascist poem while also accounting for its complicity. Fascism necessitated widespread and wild enthusiasm, but it also succeeded through the (unintentional) proliferation of political indifference as registered, for example, by the popularity of entertainment literature. While the work of certain conservative high modernists reflected critically on its own failures, such indeterminacy nonetheless resembles the failure to politically commit oneself against institutionalized violence and systematic oppression.