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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Literature/History/Theory Research Group Seminar: Dr Ian Cooper [University of Kent] 'Tenebrae, Lightenings: Poetry in the Clearing'

27th February 2014, 17:00, A56, Elvet Riverside I, Durham University


Ian Cooper is Lecturer in German at the University of Kent, having previously held research fellowships in Cambridge and Germany. He works mainly on poetry in German and English in the context of modern German thought, and has published 'The Near and Distant God: Poetry, Idealism and Religious Thought from Hölderlin to Eliot' (Maney, 2008); he is currently working on a monograph about Heidegger, Celan, Heaney and Les Murray. He co-edited and contributed to the volume on 'Aesthetics and Literature' in CUP's four-volume publication on 'The Impact of Idealism' (2013). 


In this talk I discuss two modern poets-Paul Celan and Seamus Heaney-in the context of Heidegger's thought about the 'clearing'. Celan and Heaney share a deep affinity with the Heideggerian idea of absence shaping all significant presence, and articulate this in poetry that is rich in movements of light and darkness. Especially the notion of the clearing-the empty space in which Being manifests itself-provides terms for reading their work together. In the first half of the talk I suggest a new reading of one of Celan's best known poems, 'Tenebrae', in relation to Heidegger's thoughts about the fate of Being in modernity as laid out in his work on technology, seeing 'Tenebrae' as offering a response to some of Heidegger's deepest claims. In the second half of the talk I take 'Tenebrae' as a frame for looking at Heaney's poetic sequences 'Clearances' and 'Lightenings', in which the theme of light is used to express 'unconcealment' in Heidegger's sense, while at the same time these poems go beyond Heidegger (and join up with Celan) in their understanding of finitude and gift. Other poets touched on in the talk include Hölderlin, George Herbert and Philip Larkin.

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