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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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I am grateful to the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, Somerville College and The Queen’s College at the University of Oxford; the Arts and Humanities Research Council; the Erasmus Programme and the Friedrich-Schlegel-Graduiertenschule at the Freie Universität, Berlin; and those at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach and at the Stefan George Archiv in the Württembergische Landesbibliothek. Blackfriars, Oxford, provided support of a different kind.

My parents, Carol Lawson and Alistair Conquer, taught me almost everything I know about colour; the rest I learnt from Alec Hinshelwood, Claire Kirwin, Jessie Munton and Milan Terlunen. Tony Phelan set, a good few years ago, the essay question to which this is the answer, and before that modelled a study of literature that was both modest and lively. Charlie Louth supervised the DPhil thesis on which this book is based and has been patient, tactful and encouraging for much longer. I am grateful to my examiners Ben Morgan, Barry Murnane, Ritchie Robertson and particularly Andreas Kramer: having had to defend the less wise directions of the project against such exacting critics has, I hope, made them more acceptable. Karen Leeder also examined the thesis and has, over the years, provided much more than this. My thanks go to Laurel Plapp and Simon Phillimore at Peter Lang, as well as the anonymous reader for the IGS/Peter Lang Early Career Researcher Prize, for all their help in bringing this book to publication.

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