Volume 10, Issue 2, 2013
Aesthetic Values and the Process of Civilization
The Aesthetics of Renunciation, and the Irregularities of the 20th Century
In the essay “Das Wort” (“Words”), Martin Heidegger wrote about “renunciation” (verzicht) in the context of the poetry of Stefan George. According to
Heidegger the entrance into the possibility of Saying, with the capital “S” – as opposed to the chatter of every-day life – could be achieved in the instance of the poet’s deliberate acceptance of renunciation. Heidegger’s writings, including “Words,” have had an enormous influence in the second part of the 20th century on authors and thinkers alike. And yet this influence may have had a pernicious effect, at least in the opinion of some commentators. In the 2005 book L’adieu à la littérature, William Marx, for instance, claimed that the 20th century is the time of a literature sans style. If on the one hand literature achieved its autonomy, on the other it farewelled the cognitive purpose with regard to the world, which, some could argue, equates with a retreat from its civilizing purpose. This essay does two things: first it illustrates and contextualizes the notion of “renunciation” from philosophical as well as literary and cultural perspectives: second it discusses a set of authors who have experienced the category of “renunciation” in different ways and with different outcomes. I refer to Maurice Blanchot, Frances Ponge and Édouard Glissant.