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Paul Celan

Paul Celan

Paul Celan (23 November 1920, Cernä�uÅ�i - c. 20 April 1970, Paris) was a poet and translator. Paul Antschel was born into a Jewish family in Romania, but as a writer used the pseudonym "Paul Celan" (from Ancel), becoming one of the major German-language poets of the post-World War II era.[1]


[edit] Life

[edit] Early life

Celan was born in 1920 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Cernä�uÅ�i, Northern Bukovina, then part of Romania (now part of Ukraine). His father, Leo Antschel, was a Zionist who advocated his son's education in Hebrew at Safah Ivriah, an institution previously convinced of the wisdom of assimilation into Austrian culture, and one which favourably received Chaim Weizmann of the World Zionist Organization in 1927. His mother, Fritzi, was an avid reader of German literature who insisted German be the language of the house. After his Bar Mitzvah in 1933, Celan abandoned Zionism (at least to some extent) and finished his formal Hebrew education, instead becoming active in Jewish Socialist organizations and fostering support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. His earliest known poem, titled Mother's Day 1938 was an earnest, if sentimental, profession of love. Paul graduated from the gymnasium/high school called Liceul Marele Voivod Mihai (Great Voivode Mihai High School) in 1938.[2]

In 1938, Celan travelled to Tours, France, to study medicine. The Anschluss precluded Vienna, and Romanian schools were harder to get in due to the newly-imposed Jewish quota. But returned to Cernä�uÅ�i in 1939 to study literature and Romance languages. His journey to France took him through Berlin as the events of Kristallnacht unfolded, and also introduced him to his uncle, Bruno Schrager, who later was among the French detainees who died at Birkenau.

[edit] Life during World War II

The Soviet occupation of Bukovina in June 1940 deprived Celan of any lingering illusions about Stalinism and Soviet Communism stemming from his earlier socialist engagements; the Soviets quickly imposed bureaucratic reforms on the university where he was studying Romance philology and deportations to Siberia started. Nazi Germany and Romania brought ghettos, internment, and forced labour a year later (see Romania during World War II).

On arrival in Cernä�uÅ�i July 1941 the German SS Einsatzkommando and their Romanian allies set the city's Great Synagogue on fire. In October, the Romanians deported a large number of Jews after forcing them into a ghetto, where Celan translated William Shakespeare's Sonnets and continued to write his own poetry, all the while being exposed to traditional Yiddish songs and culture. Before the ghetto was dissolved in the fall of that year, Celan was pressed into labor, first clearing the debris of a demolished post office, and then gathering and destroying Russian books.

The local mayor strove to mitigate the harsh circumstances until the governor of Bukovina had the Jews rounded up and deported, starting on a Saturday night in June 1942. Accounts of his whereabouts on that evening vary, but it is certain that Celan was not with his parents when they were taken from their home on June 21 and sent by train to an internment camp in Transnistria, where two-thirds of the deportees perished. Celan's parents were taken across the Southern Bug and handed over to the Germans, where his father likely perished of typhus and his mother was shot dead after being exhausted by forced labour. Later on, after having himself been taken to the labour camps in the Old Kingdom, Celan would receive reports of his parents' deaths earlier that year.

Celan remained in these labour camps until February 1944, when the Red Army's advance forced the Romanians to abandon them, whereupon he returned to Cernä�uÅ�i shortly before the Soviets returned to reassert their control. There, he worked briefly as a nurse in the mental hospital. Early versions of Todesfuge were circulated at this time, a poem that clearly relied on accounts coming from the now-liberated camps in Poland. Friends from this period recall Celan expressing immense guilt over his separation from his parents, whom he had tried to convince to go into hiding prior to the deportations, shortly before their death.

[edit] Life after the war

File:Paul Celan Instaplanet Archive.jpg
Paul Celan in the years following the war

Considering emigration to Palestine and wary of widespread Soviet antisemitism, Celan left the USSR in 1945 for Bucharest, where he remained until 1947. He was active in the Jewish literary community as both a translator of Russian literature into Romanian, and as a poet, publishing his work under a variety of pseudonyms. The literary scene of the time was richly populated with surrealists ' Gellu Naum, Ilarie Voronca, Gherasim Luca, Paul Pä�un, and Dolfi Trost ', and it was in this period that Celan developed pseudonyms both for himself and his friends, including the one he took as his pen name.

A version of Todesfuge appeared as Tangoul Mor�ii ("Death Tango") in a Romanian translation of May 1947. The surrealist ferment of the time was such that additional remarks had to be published explaining that the dancing and musical performances of the poem were realities of the extermination camp life. Night and Fog, another poem from that era, includes a description of the Auschwitz Orchestra, an institution organized by the SS to assemble and play selections of German dances and popular songs. (The SS man interviewed by Claude Lanzmann for his film Shoah, who rehearsed the songs prisoners were made to sing in the death camp, remarked that no Jews who had taught the songs survived.)

[edit] Exodus and Paris years

Due to the emerging of the communist regime in Romania, Celan fled Romania for Vienna, Austria. It was there that he befriended Ingeborg Bachmann, who had just completed a dissertation on Martin Heidegger. Facing a city divided between occupying powers and with little resemblance to the mythic city it once was, which had harboured the then-shattered Austro-Hungarian Jewish community, he moved to Paris in 1948, where he found a publisher for his first poetry collection, Der Sand aus den Urnen ("Sand from the Urns"). His first few years in Paris were marked by intense feelings of loneliness and isolation, as expressed in letters to his colleagues, including his longtime friend from Cernä�uÅ�i, Petre Solomon. It was also during this time that he exchanged many letters with Diet Kloos, a Dutch chanteuse. She visited him twice in Paris between 1949 and 1951. In a published edition of these letters, near the end of the exchange, Celan seems to be entertaining an amorous interest in her.

In 1952 Celan received an invitation to the semiannual meetings of Group 47. At a 1953 meeting he read his poem Todesfuge ("Death Fugue"), a depiction of concentration camp life. His reading style, which was maybe based on the way a prayer is given in a synagogue and Hungarian folk poems, was off-putting to the German audience. His poetry was sharply criticized. When Ingeborg Bachmann, with whom Celan had an affair, won the Group's prize for her collection Die gestundete Zeit (The Extended Hours), Celan (whose work had received only six votes) said "After the meeting, only six people remembered my name". He was not invited again.

The grave of Paul Celan at the Thiais cemetery near Paris

In November 1951, he met the graphic artist Gisèle Lestrange, in Paris. He would send her many wonderful love letters, influenced by Franz Kafka's correspondence with Milena Jesenska and Felice Bauer. They married on December 21, 1952, despite the opposition of her aristocratic family, and during the following 18 years they wrote over 700 letters, including a very active exchange with Hermann Lenz and his wife, Hanne. He made his living as a translator and lecturer in German at the École Normale Supérieure. He was also a pen friend of Nelly Sachs, who later won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Celan became a French citizen in 1955 and lived in Paris. Celan's sense of persecution increased after the widow of a friend, the French-German poet Yvan Goll, accused him of having plagiarised her husband's work.[3]

Celan committed suicide[4] by drowning in the Seine river in late April 1970.

[edit] Celan: poetry and poetics

[edit] Poetry after Auschwitz

The death of his parents and the experience of the Shoah (or Holocaust) are defining forces in Celan's poetry and his use of language. In his Bremen Prize speech, Celan said of language after Auschwitz that:

"Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, 'enriched' by it all."[5]

It has been written,[6] inaccurately perhaps, that German is the only language that allows (us?) to penetrate the horror of Auschwitz, to describe death from within.

His most famous poem, the early Todesfuge, commemorating the death camps, is a work of great complexity and extraordinary power, and may have drawn some key motives[7] from the poem Er[8] by Immanuel Weissglas, another Czernovitz poet. The dual character of Margarete-Sulamith, with her golden-ashen hair, appears as a reflection of Celan's Jewish-German culture,[7] while the blue-eyed "Master from Germany" embodies German Nazism.

In later years his poetry became progressively more cryptic, fractured and monosyllabic, bearing comparison to the music of Anton Webern. He also increased his use of German neologisms, especially in his later works Fadensonnen ("Threadsuns") and Eingedunkelt ("Benighted"). In the eyes of some, Celan attempted in his poetry either to destroy or remake the German language. For others he kept the lyricism of the German language. A sense for the language and a lyricism which was not shared by many others in his days. As he writes in a letter to his wife Gisèle Lestrange on one of his trips to Germany:'The German I talk is not the same as the language the German people are talking here'. Writing in German was a way for him to think back and remember his parents, his mother from whom he had learned the language. This is underlined in the poem 'Wolfsbohne'. A poem in which Paul Celan writes to his mother. The urgency and power of Celan's work stem from his attempt to find words "after", to bear (impossible) witness in a language that gives back no words "for that which happened".

In addition to writing poetry (in German and, earlier, in Romanian), he was an extremely active translator and polyglot, translating literature from Romanian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Hebrew and English into German.

[edit] Germany and German guilt

Recent commentaries on Celan's relationship to Germany (its "irreparable offense", its "guilt" and ' for many others ' "silence" on the exterminations after 1945, and after the war) often point to Celan's poem "Todtnauberg". This poem was engendered by Celan's meeting and single encounter with the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Celan had read Heidegger beginning in 1951, and exclamation marks in his margin notes testify to an awareness that Heidegger had allowed his remarks on the "greatness" of National Socialism in the 1953 edition of Introduction to Metaphysics to stand without further comment.

Celan visited West Germany periodically, including trips arranged by Hanne Lenz, who worked in a publishing house in Stuttgart. Celan and his wife Gisèle often visited Stuttgart and the area on stopovers during their many vacations to Austria. On one of his trips, Celan gave a lecture at the University of Freiburg (on July 24, 1967) which was attended by Heidegger, who gave Celan a copy of Was heißt Denken? and invited him to visit his work retreat "die Hütte" ("the hut") at Todtnauberg the following day and walk in the Schwarzwald. Although he may not have been willing to be photographed with Heidegger after the Freiburg lecture (or to contribute to Festschriften honoring Heidegger's work) Celan accepted the invitation and even signed Heidegger's guest book at the famous "hut".

The two walked in the woods. Celan impressed Heidegger with his knowledge of botany and Heidegger is thought to have spoken about elements of his press interview Only a God can save us now, which he had just given to Der Spiegel on condition of posthumous publication. That would seem to be the extent of the meeting. Todtnauberg was written shortly thereafter and sent to Heidegger as the first copy of a limited bibliophile edition. Heidegger responded with no more than a letter of perfunctory thanks.

Arnica, eyebright, the
draft from the well with the
star-die on top,
in the
written in the book
'whose name did it record
before mine ' ?
in this book
the line about
a hope, today,
for a thinker's
to come,
in the heart,
forest sward, unleveled,
orchis and orchis, singly,
crudeness, later, while driving,
he who drives us, the man,
he who also hears it,
the half-
trod log-
trails on the highmoor,
Celan: "Todtnauberg" (translated by Pierre Joris)[9]
Used by permission of the translator[10]

[edit] Celan at "Todtnauberg"

In his Poetry as Experience, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe advances the argument that, although Celan's poetry was deeply informed by Heidegger's philosophy, Celan was long aware of Heidegger's association with the Nazi party. In other words, Celan remained fundamentally circumspect toward the man even while acknowledging the transformative power of his work. In his turn, Heidegger was a professed admirer of Celan's writing, although he did not attend to it as he did Hölderlin or even Trakl. Nor would Heidegger attend to Celan as a Jewish poet working within that German tradition.

That being said, Celan's poem "Todtnauberg" seems to hold out for the unrealized possibility of a profound rapprochement between their work, albeit on the condition that Heidegger break a silence that virtually blanketed his work to the end (i.e., Lacoue-Labarthe has commented on the insufficiency of Heidegger's one known remark about the gas chambers, made in 1949). In this respect Heidegger's work, in its transformative function, was echo to a redeemed humanity even if that possibility could not be reconciled or transacted between two men. For Celan, this irreconcilable complication (involving a dissolution of the sacred in the profane and vice versa) resided irrevocably and irreparably in a breach.

One implication here is that Celan is simply demanding an apology of Heidegger. Lacoue-Labarthe and Jacques Derrida, perhaps following Celan to a degree, believed Heidegger capable of a profound criticism of Nazism and the horrors it brought forth. Therefore, they consider Heidegger's greatest failure not to be his involvement in the National Socialist movement but his "silence on the extermination" (Lacoue-Labarthe) and his refusal to engage in a thorough deconstruction of Nazism beyond laying out certain of his considerable objections to party orthodoxies that could appropriate passages from Nietzsche, Hölderlin, and Richard Wagner and subsume their "authority" or "intellectual property" behind the mask of fascism.

[edit] Quotation

' There is nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew and the language of his poems is German.[11] '

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] In German

[edit] In English

There has been a recent increase in translations of Celan's poetry into English, and many of the volumes are bilingual. The most comprehensive collections are from John Felstiner, Pierre Joris, and Michael Hamburger, who revised his translations of Celan over more than two decades. Recently Ian Fairley released his English translations.

Joris has also translated Celan's German poems into French.

(Note: this incomplete list is chronological from the year of publication of the translation, the most recent listed first)
  • Snow Part, translated by Ian Fairley (2007)
  • Paul Celan: Selections, edited and with an introduction by Pierre Joris (2005)
  • Fathomsuns/Fadensonnen and Benighted/Eingedunkelt, translated by Ian Fairley (2001)
  • Poems of Paul Celan: A Bilingual German/English Edition, Revised Edition, translated by Michael Hamburger (2001)
  • Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, edited and translated by John Felstiner (2000)(winner of the PEN, MLA, and American Translators Association prizes)
  • Glottal Stop: 101 Poems, translated by Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh (2000) (winner of the 2001 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
  • Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs: Correspondence, translated by Christopher Clark, edited with an introduction by John Felstiner (1998)
  • Atemwende/Breathturn, translated by Pierre Joris (1995)
  • Collected Prose, edited by Rosmarie Waldrop (1986) ISBN 0-935296-92-1
  • "Last Poems", translated by Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin (1986)
  • Paul Celan, 65 Poems, translated by Brian Lynch and Peter Jankowsky (1985)
  • "Speech-Grille and Selected Poems", translated by Joachim Neugroschel (1971)

[edit] In Romanian

  • Paul Celan Å�i "meridianul" sä�u. Repere vechi Å�i noi pe un atlas central-European, Andrei Corbea Hoisie

[edit] Bilingual

  • Paul Celan. Biographie et interpretation/Biographie und Interpretation, editor Andrei Corbea Hoisie

[edit] Writers translated by Celan

[edit] Biographies

  • Paul Celan: A Biography of His Youth Israel Chalfen, intro. John Felstiner, trans. Maximilian Bleyleben (New York: Persea Books, 1991)
  • Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew, John Felstiner (Yale Univ. Press, 1995)

[edit] Further reading

[edit] Selected criticism

  • Celan Studies Peter Szondi, translated by Susan Bernofsky and Harvey Mendelsohn (2003)
  • Word Traces Aris Fioretes (ed.), includes contributions by Jacques Derrida, Werner Hamacher, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1994)
  • Poetry as Experience Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, translated by Andrea Tarnowski (1999)
  • Gadamer on Celan: 'Who Am I and Who Are You?' and Other Essays, Hans-Georg Gadamer, trans. and ed. by Richard Heinemann and Bruce Krajewski (1997)
  • Sovereignties in Question: the Poetics of Paul Celan Jacques Derrida, trans. and ed. by Thomas Dutoit, Outi Pasanen, a collection of mostly late works, including "Rams," which is also a memorial essay on Gadamer and his "Who Am I and Who Are You?", and a new translation of Schibboleth (2005)
  • Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951-1970 James K. Lyon (2006)
  • Paul Celan et Martin Heidegger: le sens d'un dialogue Hadrien France-Lenord (2004)
  • Words from Abroad: Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers, Katja Garloff (2005)
  • Kligerman, Eric. Sites of the Uncanny: Paul Celan, Specularity and the Visual Arts. Berlin und New York, 2007 (Interdisciplinary German Cultural Studies, 3).
  • Andréa Lauterwein: Anselm Kiefer /Paul Celan. Myth, Mourning and Memory. With 157 illustrations, 140 in colour. Thames & Hudson, London 2007. ISBN 978-0-500-23836-3

[edit] Audio-visual

[edit] Recordings

  • Ich hörte sagen, readings of his original compositions
  • Gedichte, readings of his translations of Osip Mandelstam and Sergei Yesenin
  • Six Celan Songs, texts of his poems "Chanson einer Dame im Schatten", "Es war Erde in ihnen", "Psalm", "Corona", "Nächtlich geschürzt", "Blume", sung by Ute Lemper, set to music by Michael Nyman
  • Tenebrae (Nah sind wir, Herr) from Drei Gedichte von Paul Celan (1998) of Marcus Ludwig, sung by the ensemble amarcord
  • Einmal (from Atemwende), Zähle die Mandeln (from Mohn und Gedächtnis), Psalm (from Die Niemandsrose), set to music by Giya Kancheli as parts II - IV of Exil, sung by Maacha Deubner, ECM (1995)

[edit] Notes and resources

  1. ^ Celan is an anagram of the Romanian spelling of his surname, Ancel. Some have speculated (among them Rachel Blau DuPlessis in her Statement for Pores) that when Celan changed his name from Antschel, the German variant, he cast out the following letters: H for Adolf Hitler and ST for Joseph Stalin
  2. ^ "The Schools of Czernowitz Graduating Class of 1938". Antschel, P., 2nd Row From Top. MuseumOfFamilyHistory.com. http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/czernowitz-school-lmvm.htm. Retrieved November 19, 2009. 
  3. ^ Hamburger p.xxiii
  4. ^ Anderson, Mark A. (December 31, 2000). "A Poet at War With His Language". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/31/reviews/001231.31anderst.html. Retrieved August 7, 2009. 
  5. ^ from "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen", p.34, in Celan's Collected Prose, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, The Sheep Meadow Press, 1986
  6. ^ G. Steiner "La longue vie de la métaphore" Éctrits du temps, 14-15, p.16 (1987)
  7. ^ a b Enzo Rostagno "Paul Celan et la poésie de la destruction" in "L'Histoire déchirée. Essai sur Auschwitz et les intellectuels" , Les Éditions du Cerf 1997 (ISBN 2-204-05562-X), in French.
  8. ^ Celan's Todesfuge and Er by Immanuel Weissglas, in German.
  9. ^ Note: this version is included in Lightduress [Green Integer 113] (Kñ„benhavn & Los Angeles: Green Integer Editions, 2005) and on Pierre Joris's blog ([http://pjoris.blogspot.com/2006/11/well-with-star-die-on-top.html entry for November 29, 2006)
  10. ^ for more information on the translation of this poem see Joris' essay "Translation at the Mountain of Death"
  11. ^ Felstiner, op.cit., p. 56.
  • Taylor, John: "And How Hope is Violent (Paul Celan)," Into the Heart of European Poetry, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2008, pp. 239'247.

[edit] External links

Selected Celan exhibits, sites, homepages on the web
Selected poetry, poems, poetics on the web (English translations of Celan)
Selected multimedia presentations

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