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Paul Celan is a limitless poet; a poet who requires our full attention, and our quiet patience. His dense, recondite work has challenged readers since the 1950s. His poetry keeps giving because, in truth, at first, it gives so little... For obvious reasons he sees through a glass darkly, but his shadow-drenched lens seems to disconcert and distort so much at first that we can't get a foothold on exactly what his poetry means.

But then we realise something. Celan's words are limpid, but appear so only if we adjust our expectations, allow his words to adjust our expectations: only if we are prepared to listen. Celan’s exactness clashes with what we think of as exact: the everyday is not exact, it is a cliché; realism requires vertiginous originality. But how can one be exact about what is truly unspeakable? One can only write knowing that one approaches and approximates, and that language fails you the while; you run after exactness, but the world gets away and your words fail. Beckett taught us about this failure because he knew failure and writing were synonymous.

I have a post over on the Carcanet blog, Celan and the Demand of Reading, written as a response to Correspondence: Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs which I've recently been reading, and thoroughly recommend.

It is a rather slight piece, for sure, but not too shoddy, I hope. For a much fuller recent post on Celan, let me direct you again to Stephen Mitchelmore's superb essay on The Meridian: Final Version–Drafts–Materials, by Paul Celan.

Readers Comments

  1. This is rather belated, but thanks for this; I really enjoyed your post on the Carcanet blog. Celan is indeed worth the time and effort and love that he demands.

    I recently wrote a post on my own blog about Celan, though it's much more personal than scholarly. I'm hoping to write about him again soon.

    http://thestoneandthestar.blogspot.com/2011/10/there-feeling-coming-home-to-paul-celan.html

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