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Review of Paul Celan: Selections

September 7th, 2012 · 1 Comment · Poetry, Translation

The following review just published on CUTTY SPOT:

[RE-VIEW OF PAUL CELAN&#8217;S &#8216;SELECTIONS&#8217;]<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;Paul Celan&#8217; (23 November 1920 – c. 20 April 1970) was a Romanian poet and translator. He was born as Paul Antschel into a Jewish family in the former Kingdom of Romania (now Ukraine), and changed his name to &#8216;Paul Celan&#8217; (where Celan in Romanian would be pronounced Chelan, and was derived from Ancel, pronounced Antshel), becomig one of the major German-language poets of the post-World War II era.&#8217; (wikepedia)</p><br /><br />
<p>&#8216;In other words: the poem is born dark; the result of a radical individuation, it is born as a piece of language, as far as language manages to be world, is loaded with world&#8217; – Celan<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;[Celan] also translated a number of short stories by Franz Kafka, an author who was to remain of central importance to him for the rest of his life&#8217; – translator Pierre Joris<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;he left Vienna for Paris, where he arrived in July 1948 and where he would remain until his death in late April 1970&#8217; – Joris<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;The first poets he translated, probably still in the late forties, were Andre Breton, Aime Cesaire, Henri Pastoureau, and Benjamin Peret. (Eluard and Desnos would be added to this list in the late fifties)&#8217; – Joris<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;Celan was loath to be made a mouthpiece for what came to be called Holocaust poetry and refused to narrativize his experiences from that period&#8217; – J<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;The poem bears witness. We don&#8217;t know about what and for what, about whom and for whom, in bearing witness for bearing witness, it bears witness. But it bears witness. As a result, what it says of the witness it also says of itself as witness or as witnessing. As poetic witnessing.&#8217; - Derrida on Celan<br /><br /><br />
* * * * * * *<br /><br /><br />
the book starts in chronological order<br /><br /><br />
with his earliest work<br /><br /><br />
in his early work he was &#8216;swayed by the surrealists&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
I love &#8216;the surrealists&#8217; &amp; truly enjoy Celan&#8217;s early work<br /><br /><br />
(more than his later work, later in the book)<br /><br /><br />
the last line of the first poem, which is a prose poem (the only prose poem in the book):<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;attempt a dance supposed to make me ecstatic. But so far I have not succeeded, and with my eyes, which have migrated to my temples, I contemplate my profile, waiting for spring&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
his early poems were very spare<br /><br /><br />
very &#8216;bare-bones,&#8217; minimal<br /><br /><br />
I enjoy this<br /><br /><br />
he speaks to a &#8216;you&#8217; a lot in his early work<br /><br /><br />
what is it about &#8216;I &amp; you&#8217; poems that sustains intrigue?<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;I am you when I am I&#8217; Celan says<br /><br /><br />
Celan is known for his &#8216;darkness&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
Andrea Zanzotto, in the back of the book, says, &#8216;to approach the poetry of Celan […] is a shattering experience&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
he apparently felt &#8216;exiled&#8217; &amp; &#8216;paranoid&#8217; throughout his personal life<br /><br /><br />
his mother was murdered by the Nazis<br /><br /><br />
although he rarely makes reference to his traumatic experience as a Jewish man at this time, perhaps his most famous poem does, &#8216;Death Fugue&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
which repeats &#8216;Black milk of morning we drink you&#8217; &amp; &#8216;we scoop out a grave in the sky where it&#8217;s roomy to lie&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
when asked in interviews etc. throughout his life about his traumatic experiences, he refused to answer<br /><br /><br />
like tons of writers, he didn&#8217;t receive such immense praise until after his death<br /><br /><br />
* * *<br /><br /><br />
his late poems read as more obscure than his early ones<br /><br /><br />
very fragmented<br /><br /><br />
almost collagist<br /><br /><br />
throughout his &#8216;oeuvre&#8217; he uses the word &#8216;stone&#8217; &amp; &#8216;word&#8217; a lot<br /><br /><br />
he is very concerned with the limits &amp; opportunities of language<br /><br /><br />
although he lived in France for much of his life, he felt compelled to remain a &#8216;german&#8217; poet<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;Only in the mother tongue can one speak one&#8217;s own truth, in a foreign language the poet lies,&#8217; he says<br /><br /><br />
I will ponder this notion for a long time<br /><br /><br />
he met with Heidegger sometime in the 60&#8217;s, hoping to get some sort of retrospective<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;apology&#8217; of sorts about Heidegger&#8217;s involvement in Nazism<br /><br /><br />
however, Heidegger did not give him one<br /><br /><br />
Celan wrote a poem about this visit, &#8216;Todtnauberg&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
after the elaborate intro &amp; long sheaf of &#8216;selected&#8217; &#8216;poems&#8217; in this book, he has a piece that reads as kind of a &#8216;philosophical&#8217; &#8216;short story&#8217; – &#8216;Conversations in the Mountains&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
I very much enjoyed this piece<br /><br /><br />
very somberly, two Jewish men meet in the woods<br /><br /><br />
Celan writes: &#8216;because when a Jew comes along and meets another, silence cannot last, even in the mountains. Because the Jew and nature are strangers to each other, have always been and still are, eve today, even here&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
the end of the book has letters (some unsent) to ppl like surrealist poet Rene Char &amp; philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre<br /><br /><br />
the book ends w/ five essays on Celan by ppl like Jacques Derrida &amp; Edmond Jabes<br /><br /><br />
(when I say &#8216;ppl like,&#8217; I&#8217;m naming my personal favorites from the lot)<br /><br /><br />
ultimately I enjoy reading Celan<br /><br /><br />
I will return to his early work more than his later work<br /><br /><br />
maybe one day I will appreciate his later work just as much<br /><br /><br />
I find his &#8216;darkness&#8217; &#8216;engaging&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
I find his more &#8216;overtly&#8217; &#8216;abstract&#8217; poems a bit convoluted<br /><br /><br />
I love how he creates his own words<br /><br /><br />
or rather, combines two words often to make one word:<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;heavenstones&#8217; &#8216;wordblood&#8217; &#8216;nightbed&#8217; intergrafted&#8217; &#8216;vultureshadow&#8217; &#8216;straightthrough&#8217; &#8216;timehole&#8217;</p><br /><br />
<p>HERE ARE MY FAVORITE MOMENTS FROM THE BOOK:</p><br /><br />
<p>&#8216;I searched for your eye which you opened when nobody saw you&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;Speak – But do not separate the no from the yes. / Give your saying also meaning: / give it its shadow&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;And your eye – what does your eye stand on?&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;Noone / bears witness for the / witness&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;I did hear him, / he did wash the world, / unseen, nighlong, / real. // One and unending, / annihilated, / I&#8217;ed. // Light was. Salvation&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;Now must be the moment / for a just / birth&#8217;<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;the poet is someone who is permanently involved with a language that is dying and which he resurrects, not by giving it back some triumphant aspect but by making it return sometimes, like a specter or a ghost: the poet wakes up language and in order to really make the “live” experience of this waking up, of this return to life of language, one has to be very close to the corpse of the language&#8217; – Derrida<br /><br /><br />
&#8216;Silence, as all writers know, allows the word to be heard. At a given moment, the silence is so strong that the words express nothing but it alone. Does this silence, capable of making language tilt over, possess its own language to which one can attribute either origin nor name?&#8217; - Jabes

 

[RE-VIEW OF PAUL CELAN’S ‘SELECTIONS’]

Paul Celan’ (23 November 1920 – c. 20 April 1970) was a Romanian poet and translator. He was born as Paul Antschel into a Jewish family in the former Kingdom of Romania (now Ukraine), and changed his name to ‘Paul Celan’ (where Celan in Romanian would be pronounced Chelan, and was derived from Ancel, pronounced Antshel), becomig one of the major German-language poets of the post-World War II era.’ (wikepedia)
‘In other words: the poem is born dark; the result of a radical individuation, it is born as a piece of language, as far as language manages to be world, is loaded with world’ – Celan

‘[Celan] also translated a number of short stories by Franz Kafka, an author who was to remain of central importance to him for the rest of his life’ – translator Pierre Joris

Read the full review here.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Poo

    “‘Only in the mother tongue can one speak one’s own truth, in a foreign language the poet lies.” Gee, and I do so much like your English work. I always have so much trouble with that Letzebuergesch inasmuch as it is an oral language. Kind of hard to read for a poor old Canuck. Mind you, it does stimulate the imagination somewhat.

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