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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: August 2014

12 - Reframing the Poetics of the Aztec Empire: Gertrud Kolmar's “Die Aztekin” (1920)


In recent years, the works by the German-Jewish poet Gertrud Kolmar (1894–1943) have found renewed interest among scholars. Raised in the upper middle class of Berlin and fully acculturated in the German cultural heritage, Gertrud Kolmar was persecuted, under the pressure of the National Socialist regime, because of her Jewish roots. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she chose to remain in Nazi Berlin and continued to write until her death in Auschwitz in 1943. Even though her published work spanned the innovative period between 1917 and 1937, Kolmar's poetic oeuvre from the years 1927 to 1937 has received the most attention. Though neglected by scholars, Kolmar's earlier work is fascinating precisely because it gives prescient insight into her poetic adaptations of questions concerning place, power, and gender at the end of the First World War.

My essay investigates an early poem in Kolmar's work: “Die Aztekin” (The Aztec Woman), written around 1920 and published in Früher Zyklus I. In memoriam 1918. Kolmar's “Aztekin” illustrates a testing ground for colonial fantasies and gendered mappings in its imaginary space of a poetic “Aztec empire.” The poem responds not only to preestablished writings on gendered conquests in the New World but also, more specifically, rewrites them in the perceived context of an imperial apocalypse in and after 1918, between megalomaniacal power struggles and the collapse of the Wilhelmine empire.