27 Sep 2022
13:00  - 14:00

Englisches Seminar, Grosser Hörsaal


Poetical thanatosonics – on the grounds of Polish literature 1939-1945

Prof. Dobrawa Lisak-Gębala (Uniwersytet Wrocławski)

In his 2015 book Listening to War J.M. Daughtry convincingly claims that the sound can wound because wartime is always connected with a unique entanglement of violence and aural phenomena. Daughtry’s concept of thanatosonics was developed by him for needs of the analysis of the testimonies from the recent war in Iraq. This theory proves adequate to describe the poems written in Polish in the period of World War II rendered as immediate responses to individual war experiences of first-hand earwitnesses. Although poetry differs from non-fiction testimonies, it can be treated as source material for studying war soundscapes and painful experiences of listeners who sense the imminence of death. Moreover, thanatosonic poems connect aural motifs with special affective attunement, and they evoke psychological and somatic reactions to the din of war.

The main research question deals with various affordances of poetry as a medium used in parallel staging war experiences and sounds. The thanatosonic poem never turns out to be a transparent representation. Firstly, it is often meant to trace the unrepresentable: to emulate audial elements and to convey preverbal affects connected with traumatizing events. Many preserved texts, written by survivors who were still in danger, appear as brief and radical artistic performances. Their obscurity and disruptions echo liminal experiences and bursts of affect. Such texts can even function as the precocious mode of witnessing the inaccessible trauma (Sh. Felman’s concept). Secondly, the experienced wartime auscultators (e.g. soldiers, civilians during air raids, prisoners, including Jews in ghettos or concentration camps) developed a host of auditory practices which are mirrored by a stable reservoir of sound-related poetic motifs and conventions. Thirdly, to cope with their thanatosonic experiences, wartime authors tended to adapt numerous cultural costumes, which helped them engender the peculiar “cultural politics of emotions” (S. Ahmed’s term). As a result, poetical thanatosonics in Polish wartime verse covers a full spectrum of artistic possibilities, ranging from the most traditional forms to avant-garde experiments.

Dobrawa Lisak-Gębala – Ph.D., born in 1984; assistant professor at the Institute of Polish Philology, University of Wrocław (Poland). She graduated from cultural studies and Polish language and literature studies. She published two monographs: Ultraliterature (2014) and Visual Springboards. Contemporary Polish Essays on Paintings and Photographs (2016). Her field of interest covers the history of the Polish literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, the intermediality, sound studies and memory studies. Her project ‘Poetical thanatosonics – on the grounds of Polish poetry (1939–1945)’ is financed by the National Science Centre (2019/35/D/HS2/00128).

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