Sunday 1 June 2008

Celan and Amichai

Still not back into routine. I have the morning free for work, so am striving to resume it. Starting with this, which is back to front.

I have read no poetry these last few days, but more Coetzee essays from his book Inner Workings (Literary Essays 2000-2005) about other people, including Paul Celan and a commentary on his Todesfuge (Death Fugue) - which we discussed in class. Mentioned him to my sister. Quoted Coetzee to her, 'One of the landmark poems of the twentieth century. ' She had not heard of him, nor had I, I think. It take one's breath away, something so major and we did not know. Mentioned the poem to the person who organised this years' Holocaust Comemoration, and she'd never heard of it either. This year they read out one of Waslawa Szymborska's poems, entitled Could have, entirely appropriate.

Coetzee writes:
"It is one of the most direct of Celan's poems in naming and blaming: naming what went on in the death camps, blaming Germany

I have the book in front of me , and I have just re-read an excerpt from one of Celan's speeches (upon accepting a prize) where he talks about language and its ability to represent what happened.

"...It, the language, remained, not lost, yes in spite of everything. But it had to pass through its own answerlessness, pass through frightful muting, pass through the thousand darknesses of deathbringing speech. It passed through and gave back no words for that which happened; yet it passed through this happening. Passed through and could come to light again, 'enriched' by all this." (SPP, p. 395)

I have reproduced the punctuation carefully.

Re-reading it, the word passing over sprung to mind, which is passach, which relates to the Seder, the Haggadah, Passover. Could I find the original text for this speech? I am wondering which language it was written in and who chose the word passing through (not over) and what original word it was a translation of. Passover being the celebration of the Hebrews' successful flight from Egypt.

Am also wondering about Hebrew translations of Celan's works and what Israeli poets make of this passage and of the Todesfugue. Coetzee mentions Amichai, he translated Celan's poems into Hebrew, and Celan's Hebrew was good enough to make suggestions for improvements.

Improving upon Amichai, there's a thought.

Also God being the Word, in Judaism, what does Celan's 'defence' of language mean?

More reading required.

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