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Snow from Broken Eyes

Millington, Richard

Snow from Broken Eyes

Cocaine in the Lives and Works of Three Expressionist Poets

Series: Australisch-Neuseeländische Studien zur deutschen Sprache und Literatur / Australian and New Zealand Studies in German Language and Literature - Volume 20

Year of Publication: 2012

Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2012. 341 pp.
ISBN 978-3-0343-1069-7 pb.  (Softcover)

Weight: 0.490 kg, 1.080 lbs

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Book synopsis

The highpoint of German Expressionism in the second decade of the 20th century coincided with a rapid increase in the availability of cocaine as the drug was stockpiled for medical purposes by armies fighting the First World War. Snow from Broken Eyes investigates the implications of this historical intersection for the lives and works of three poets associated with Expressionism: Gottfried Benn, Walter Rheiner and Georg Trakl. All three are known to have used the drug during the War, although under very different circumstances, and the cocaine references contained in their works are equally diverse. These range from demonstrative declarations of drug use (Benn), via agonized textual re-enactments of the addict’s humiliation and suffering (Rheiner), to the integration of drug symbolism into an original, deeply resonant poetic code (Trakl). In this study, the findings arising from close readings of key works by Benn, Rheiner and Trakl are contextualized in relation both to the longstanding historical association between psychoactive substances and imaginative literature, and to the radical innovations in literary style that characterized the early 20th century.


Contents: A condensed literary history of cocaine – Reading cocaine: methodological considerations – Gottfried Benn’s toxicology of genius – The poems and plays of Benn’s «episode with cocaine» – Walter Rheiner: archetype of the Expressionist addict – Rheiner’s master narrative of addiction – Georg Trakl: an Austrian drug-eater – The poems of Trakl’s cocaine period – Trakl’s poetics of intoxication – Snow symbolism in Trakl’s poetry.

About the author(s)/editor(s)

Richard Millington is a Lecturer in German at the School of Languages and Cultures, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.


«[…] anyone tbinking about the complex inter-mingling of life, literature and intoxication will find this an invaluable resource.»
(Karen Leeder, Benn Forum, Band 4, 2014/2015)


Australian and New Zealand Studies in German Language and Literature. Vol. 20
General Editor: Gerhard Schulz