Speech Unbound. Prose and the Problem of Form

Susanne Lüdemann
Professor of German and Comparative Literature, LMU (Munich); Carlotte M. Craig Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department of German, Rutgers University
April 10, 2017
4:30 – 6:00 pm
205 East Pyne

In modernity, and also in the historical narratives of modernity, ‘prose’ has never been a neutral or a purely descriptive concept. On the one hand, the “prosaic state of the world” (Hegel) is part of a narrative of decline and disappointment (or disenchantment), linked to the “end of art“ and to the repression or loss of a “poetic“ state of mind in the instrumental rationality of modern state and society. On the other hand, the concept of ‘prose’ is part of a narrative of hope and freedom, linked to the idea of free or “unbound“ speech, and to polyphony (the plurality of ‘voices’ or ‘votes’) as an aesthetic as well as a political value. The semantics of “unbound speech“ (ungebundene Rede) is thus, across languages and from the beginning of modernity, bound to the question of the social bond, of what binds free speech and modern society, of both linguistic (grammatical, syntactical) and social or genealogical bonding, of the ‘weaving’ of modernity and its representations. Against this semantic background, Prof. Lüdemann’s talk will discuss prose as a problem of form in both literature and historiography. Special emphasis will be placed on Hannah Arendt’s reflections on “thinking without a banister” and on literary modes of writing history after the break with tradition.