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"Eine eigentliche Durchdringung": Literary and National Identity, Gender, and Body in Rilke's "Stifter Letter" to August Sauer

Joseph Metz
The German Quarterly
Vol. 76, No. 3 (Summer, 2003), pp. 314-328
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of German
DOI: 10.2307/3252085
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3252085
Page Count: 15
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"Eine eigentliche Durchdringung": Literary and National Identity, Gender, and Body in Rilke's "Stifter Letter" to August Sauer
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Abstract

This essay explores the intersections of literary-linguistic identity, gender, nation, the body, and imperial-colonial discourse in a letter by Rainer Maria Rilke. As I argue, Rilke's letter to the Prague Germanist August Sauer-a key voice for ethnic German nationalism in Bohemia-reveals itself to be more than a mere request for the works, edited by Sauer, of fellow Austrian author Adalbert Stifter. Rather, it constitutes a signifying field in which Rilkean anxieties about insufficient literary-linguistic power are figured in terms of imperiled masculinity, "feminine" threats, and a discourse of Austria as abject, inner colonial space. In the gendered anatomical imaginary across which the letter's rhetoric unfolds, Rilke's physical body and body of work become "feminized" and "contaminated" by their relation to a heterogeneous, ethnically fluid body of the Austrian nation. To illustrate this process, I read the letter's metaphors and players (Rilke, Stifter, Sauer, Austria itself) through paradigms oedipal and abject, as well as against historically specific modes of figuring Bohemia in terms of European colonial discourse, with its somatically focused dread of miscegenation and hybridity.

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