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Reading Colour

George, Rilke, Kandinsky, Lasker-Schüler


Rey Conquer

Colour is a problem for poetry, where – unlike in painting, sculpture or film – it
is marked by its absence. This absence raises questions that have often been
overlooked in the study of colour: how do writers navigate the invisibility of
colour in text? What aesthetic commitments do certain attitudes to colour
expose? And how, in the face of its absence, do we read colour?

This ambitious and exciting study addresses these questions, analysing the
use of colour language in the work of Stefan George, Rainer Maria Rilke,
Wassily Kandinsky and Else Lasker-Schüler to tease out how these poets
understood poetic production, and how they negotiated the relations between
poem, reader and world. Covering the poetry, prose, translation, literary and art
criticism and theory of these and other writers central to European literature
at the turn of the twentieth century, Reading Colour sheds new light on poetic
practice of the period, but also uses colour to open up an understanding of
how poetic language works, and to ask how we read poetry.

This book was the winner of the 2018 Early Career Researcher Prize in German
Studies, a collaboration between the Institute for German Studies at the
University of Birmingham and Peter Lang.

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Chapter 4 Lasker-Schüler’s Blue Rooms: An Experiment in Reading


Chapter 4

Lasker-Schüler’s Blue Rooms: An Experiment in Reading

‘I am generally very benevolent [said Shade]. But there are certain trifles I do not forgive.’ Kinbote: ‘For instance?’ ‘Not having read the required book. Having read it like an idiot. Looking in it for symbols; example: “The author uses the striking image green leaves because green is the symbol of happiness and frustration.”’1

But the nature of [literary analysis] is not that of the detective interrogating a suspect; it is, rather, a medical examination undertaken by an erotic partner.2

Why, in fact, does it require a more strenuous effort to believe that a narrative lacks coherence than to believe that somehow, if we could only find out, it doesn’t?3

Kandinsky wanted to create works in which the viewer or reader could wander. This was a therapeutic wandering, conceived as an exercise in aesthetic self-improvement: the more the viewer experiences, in some meaningfully physiological way, the work of art, the keener their soul, or aesthetic sensibility. Through the experience of wandering the soul becomes recalibrated for the art of the future, more sensitively tuned to its spiritual content, and freed from the reductive desire for an objective framework within which it could be good or bad, right or wrong. In this chapter I turn to Kandinsky’s contemporary, Else Lasker-Schüler, whose work similarly←193 | 194→ crossed generic and media boundaries.4 Wandering – ‘durch die Straßen willenlos irren’...

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