Rudolf Borchardt: Poet of Assimilation:
The Extreme Case of an Extreme Tendency
The death sentence pronounced (though never carried out) on Rudolf Borchardt by the Nazis (most incompetent of judges) recalls the tragic irony that hovers over some of Shakespeare’s fools. They too know the loveliest songs, they too are something else—both more and less—than they appear, they too move in the word rather than in life, and leave the play without having taken part in its development, memorable ornaments but no more.
Rudolf Borchardt was the extreme case of an extreme tendency: a German poet of Jewish lineage, he staked the immense fund of his genius on his service to German culture at its most profound and most haughty. He refused to regard his origins as a problem to be solved, either by opposition or assent or even by an ambivalence which, oscillating between hate and love, might have enriched him. His Jewishness existed for him neither as a problem nor a curse. He simply denied it by effacing or repressing it. He was a great poet and a great liar, at once demoniac and pathological.
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