Matteo Zupancic (Istituto Italiano di Studi Germanici, University of Stuttgart)


Matteo Zupancic is Postdoc Research Fellow (100%) at the Istituto Italiano di Studi Germanici (Rome) and wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter at the Stuttgart Research Centre for Text Studies (Stuttgart), as part of the project “Goethes Venezianische Epigramme – Kritische digitale Edition”. In October 2022, he received a PhD in Discipline Linguistiche e Letterature Straniere and Neuere deutsche Literatur (2022) from the University of Pisa and the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen. Previously (2013-2018), he studied German and Italian literature at the Scuola Normale Superiore and the University of Pisa. In 2019, he was Stipendiat at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach. His main areas of interest are the literary Sprachreflexion in the klassische Moderne as well as the intersection between literature, philosophy and theology, both of which were the subject of his doctoral dissertation (title: Logosformeln. Literarische Sprachreflexion und religiöses Sprachdenken in der Moderne). In addition to these, he is interested in intertextuality, epistemology of cultural studies, modern philology, and Critical Posthumanism between the Goethezeit and the Weimar Republic.

«Wie eine hohle Form». On Rainer Maria Rilke’s Kenotic Modernism

The aim of the present proposal is to offer a new systematization of the religious sources of Rainer Maria Rilke’s (1875-1926) poetological workshop during the first decade of the 20th century, between the linguistical skepticism of the Stunden-Buch (1899-1903) and the heights of the upcoming modernist masterpiece Duineser Elegien (1912-1922). Faced with the Fin-the-siècle European Sprachkrise and thus the impossibility of establishing an ontological connection between sign and referent, Rilke tried to find his way out through a redefinition of the meaning of ‘silence’. Instead of seeing it as the byproduct of a tragic failure of the denotative function of language, in fact, the poet resorted to the vast tradition of apophaticism, which not only treasured silence as the most respectful form of speech with regard to the ultimate Reality, but also understood it as the language of God itself. More specifically, by means of an eclectic hybridization of Eckhartian Gelassenheit, the negative theology of Angelus Silesius, the theologies of love of the Frauenmystik, the Buddhist concept of śūnyatā (emptiness) and the Pauline tradition of Kenosis, the Austrian poet tried to restore the severed bond between words and things by emptying language of its semantic content in order to allow things to flow freely into it. Rilke used three different but coherent metaphors to describe such a process: First, the image of the Mulde, the empty mould into which molten metal is poured to produce a statue; second, the Schale (shell) of the Buddha’s body, which silently envelops the whole world; third, the Virgin Mary’s womb, through which the immaterial Logos empties itself (kenosis) in order to receive a body and enter the world. The direct result of this rich interplay between poetry and religious tradition was the creation of the paradoxical mimesis of the Neue Gedichte (1907), where the poetic form of the Dinggedicht aimed not to speak of reality but rather to let reality speak through the poem itself.