The Poem and Social Form: Making a People out of a Poem in Peru and Germany

Date of Award

Fall 10-1-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Fradinger, Moira


This dissertation studies poets who turn to poems to find weapons to critique the nation-state and regenerate democratic social bonds during moments of crisis in its history. Not just any poems, but poems in excavated, foreign and strange tongues that can provide an “other” founding for politics. These excavated poems, I argue, offer new vocabularies to think about interdependence as a base requirement for democratic relations. To make this argument, I turn to case studies from the German-speaking territories of Europe and the Spanish-speaking Andean region of South America. Since Germany existed only in fictional form in the early 1800s—without a unified territory, single sovereign, or legal code—it is a productive counterpart to Peru, whose contested nationhood grappled with a very different historical force, colonization. Paradoxically, these radically divergent histories develop parallel notions of the poem as a place where the relational ground of democratic sociality occurs. From Friedrich Hölderlin’s translations from the Greek and Mariano Melgar’s yaravíes, in the turn of the nineteenth century, to César Vallejo’s Trilce and Rainer Maria Rilke’s New Poems, in the early twentieth century, I demonstrate how these poets channeled the marginal effects of language to support democratic relations in their materiality. Through elements such as prosody, pronouns, and translation, they questioned the national politics of their time and developed categories for democratic community that could resist them. Ultimately, I hold that this configuration of poets goes beyond reinterpreting the critical potential of the poem at their specific historical junctures, asking how to think of the poem's potential today.

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