Aaron Deveson
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Department of English, NTNU
The publication in 2013 of The Palm Beach Effect, a book of critical “reflections” on Michael Hofmann, confirmed the importance of this British but German-born poet, translator, and critic. Picking up where some of the contributors to this recent volume left off, this article evaluates a major part of Hofmann’s poetic career through a focus on his cosmopolitanism, and is an attempt to find out what sort of cosmopolitan poet Hofmann has been, at a time when his poetic voice has gone mostly quiet. Hofmann’s poetry is explored on its own terms and through the prism of some recent sociological and other theoretical writing on cosmopolitanism, including the idealistic Europeanist and globalist work of Gerard Delanty.The investigation begins with a close-read and contextual analysis of the cosmopolitanism of Hofmann’s Nights in the Iron Hotel (1983) and, especially, Acrimony (1986). Though these works deploy a variety of anti-imperial figures, I suggest that their way of using European culture to hold Hofmann’s father, the author Gert Hofmann, to account for the displacement suffered by his poet-son adds up to a powerfully internalized but ultimately Eurocentric form of cosmopolitanism. The article goes on to contrast this early phase of Hofmann’s writing with the poems of Corona, Corona (1993), with special emphasis on the Mexico-set travel sequence at the end of that book. I argue that it is in the expansively historical and materialist poetry of this later volume—where Hofmann stages a memorably polyglot encounter between local and global forms of capitalism through an awareness of shared yet differently “rooted” inauthenticity—that this writer approaches the limits of his and “British” poetry’s cosmopolitan imagination. A final section considers the drift away from an engagement with the “stranger” (Appiah) in Hofmann’s later books, as well as the implications of his recent poetic silences.