Paul Celan @ 90

Today we would celebrate — we do celebrate — Paul Celan‘s 90th birthday. Below, some excerpts from my forthcoming translation of the scholarly edition of The Meridian, specifically from the sections called “Breath” and “Breathturn.” These section titles are not Celan’s own but those of the editors; the texts come from Celan’s various notebooks and jottings spanning the months during which he composed his seminal essay “The Meridian”. Most of these thoughts and ideas ( at times indicated by “-i-” in Celan’s handwriting) did not make it — or at least not in this form — into the final essay.

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The poem comes into being through intercourse with something that remains invisible to us: through intercourse with language.

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a meeting with language is a meeting with the invisible

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The poem is monotone/monotonic

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The lightness (i.e. the floating away) of many a poem recalls — and that is, like high art a dream of great magic — the state of levitation. “With it I saw the power of heaviness end.” He who attains this state as language and through language—through = as poem— will realize— this dream and what’s great in it lives on!—, will realize art—I am quoting a saying by A. Schönberg, and quote it according to T. Adorno—‘Art doesn’t come from being able to, it comes from having to.’ You see, there is also this kind of etymology: not through what has been derived from the imperceptible root do we have the true and the ground; we become aware of it through the root-distant branch (the branch that stands into time),the branch driven into time by the root.

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Re metaphor, image etc:

The pictorial is by no means something visual; it is, like everything else connected with language, a mental phenomenon. (Language: is that not an encounter with the invisible) It is, even in what is furthest from the voice, a question of the accent; in the poem the perception of its sound-pattern also belongs to the perceived image. (By the breath-steads in which it stands, you recognize it, by the crest-times) That is by no means the same as this or that cheap impressionistic tone-painting, timbre etc. It is, here too, a manifestation of language, a speechart that has to be heard in the written, i.e. the silent (The language-grille, which is also the speechgrille, makes this visible.)

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The poem estranges. It estranges by its existence, by the mode of its existence, it stands opposite and against one, voiceful and voiceless simultaneously, as language, as language setting itself free, as language in statu nascendi—as Valéry once said…

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‘What’s on the lung, put on the tongue,’ my mother used to say. Which has to do with breath. One should finally learn how to also read this breath, this breath-unit in the poem; in the cola meaning is often more truthfully joined and fugued than in the rhyme; shape of the poem: that is presence of the single, breathing one.—

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Breath:
The poem remains, if you allow me a little critical jargon, pneumatically touchable.

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here, on breathroutes, the poem moves

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•Voice—direction (wherefrom <— ensouling
↕                                   whereto —> death, God)
Timbre

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Poems are not accumulations and articulations of “word material;” they are the actualizing of something immaterial, language-emanations carried through life-hours, tangible and mortal like us. These hours are, especially in the poem, our hours—this is one of them—; hours have no phenotype; we still write for our life.

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… and the eternal, that is at the same time the mortal, kept safe in the word and in the word’s finitude.

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The poem is the detour from you to you; it is the route. It is also the route of language to itself, its becoming visible and mortal: therewith the poem becomes the raison d’être of language.

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The poem as that which literally speaks-itself-to-death.

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The poem: the trace of our breath in language
-i- the aura (Hauch) of our mortality, with which a language fragment goes over into nothingness and that vacancy thus arises, in which which gives form to the new

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To write poems: a beginning without illusion.

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The poet as person is given to the poem as its share—

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In the singular the common speaks.—

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The poem: a self-realization of language through radical individuation, i.e. the single, unrepeatable speaking of an individual.

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All that has been transmitted is only there once, as voice; its reappearance, its respective present is a becoming-voiced of what has stepped back and is stored in the voiceless; decisive for its new appearance is its new voice; problems of style, are motives; themes etc. are co-extensive, not co-essential with poetry. (of the same origin)

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Vocabulary etc.: Poems supposedly consisting of words—no, n’en déplaise à Mallarmé: The poem is, also in terms of its semantic meaning, the place of the singular, the irreversible; it is, to say it differently, the cemetery of all synonymics. (it resides beyond all synonymics

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Breath = interval

These intervals cannot be replaced with (human) empty space and time-segments!

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Poems are narrows: you have to go through here with your life—

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• fateful—a highly contestable word, and yet, allow me, to use it here as an auxiliary word: one has to live according to one’s poems, if they are to remain true; and concerning this or that poem one has to ask oneself if one hadn’t better left it unwritten. Even irreality has something of that imperative: Here you, life, have to go through.—

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To dress with attributes
Nakedness
Undressing

Poems: Equipment for a journey—the decisive one, the single one, which does not know its goal, but its whereto—

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Distance: I mean distance, in no way do I mean future

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… Büchner’s last words on his deathbed, Lenz’s words (Moscow) have not come down to us—it is the return into the just still voiced, as in Woyzeck—it is language as involution, the unfolding of meaning in the one, word-estranged syllable—: it is the ‘rootsyllable,’ recognizable in the death rattled stuttering, the language as what has returned into the germ — the meaning carrier is the mortal mouth, whose lips won’t round themselves. Muta cum liquida,—and vowel-buttressed, the rhyme-sound as self-sound.

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3 opinions on “Paul Celan @ 90”

  1. Oh, my, so many riches here. Ties together so many modernist themes, beginning with the idea of the breath as source of speech and poetry…plus the risk entailed….going thru narrows….the once only quality of each poem, and more.

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