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Blog entries on '14 March 2006'

Tuesday 14 March 2006

More on Complicity

I mentioned yesterday, Ellis Sharp's article The Complicity of Paul Celan. Ellis is a fine, high-minded writer whose blogging is always intelligent, often excoriatingly so, and well-argued. I'm not sure that he quite right, however, to direct his ire towards Celan. Or, better, I'm not sure whether Celan's poetry can be read as instrumentally as Ellis reads it, taking the lead from Celan biographer John Felstiner, as an endorsement of the state of Israel and thus as direct evidence of what Ellis calls Celan's "complicity in oppression and injustice."

Ellis cites Denk dir ("It’s a cryptic, elusive poem, like most of Celan’s verse," he rightly cautions). Introducing it, he says it "appears to be a direct response to the Six Day War" [my emphasis]. He follows Felstiner's (biographically reductive) reading throughout despite saying, later in his piece, something which I would agree with: "Felstiner’s book is both classically orientalist and Zionist in its attitudes."

At the beginning his essay, Ellis retells the famous anecdote, one which exemplfies an archetypical moment of misinterpration, whereby, after Celan's meeting with Heidegger (recently so disatrously dramatised by John Banville), Heidegger thrills at the poem (Todtnauberg) that Celan has left him. Heidegger, who knows how willfully, how blindly, sees no rebuke in Celan's ambiguous, yet sad, pointed, accusatory poem.

Certainly, as Steve says, "Celan has a critical aura of protection about him" and one "cannot read his long account of the poet's brief relationship to Israel without unease." And I'm grateful to Ellis for this essay. That the author of such an exceptional oeuvre made mistaken political judgements is indeed "worthy of discussion", but that Celan remained in Paris, writing recondite, intricate works should further caution us against condemning him as a mouthpiece for Zionism. Celan did support Israel; regardless, it is exceedingly difficult to drag his poetry into unambiguous support for anything: I don't think even Celan can be allowed to do that. Certainly, his biographer's politics shouldn't be allowed to flatten his opaque, cryptic, beautiful words.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 14 March 2006

NY Librarians' 25 Most Memorable Books

This has been widely linked to, but librarians rule, so I'm happy to keep the meme alive: the New York Public Library has unveiled its annual list of 25 Books to Remember.

The Books to Remember program celebrates its 50th anniversary this year—with a list of outstanding titles chosen for their “distinct and lasting contribution to literature.” A panel of NYPL librarians works for months to pick the year’s most outstanding titles. The panel of seven begins by examining hundreds of book reviews. Next, they plunge in, each reading on average more than 100 of the year’s most notable works. Discussions and debates follow as the merits of each book are weighed. Finally, a vote decides which 25 make the list of the year’s most memorable reads.

The list includes some of the (dull) usual suspects (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; On Beauty by Zadie Smith), some books we've reviewed here on RSB (The March; Small Island), Windows on the World by Frederic Beigbeder, which I thought clumsy and disingenuous, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which moved me a great deal, and a couple of other titles that look worth tracking down - Bread and Roses: Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream by Bruce Watson ("vividly reconstructs the story of the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a watershed moment in American labor history") and The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikha’il (translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow, this "intimate, subversive, and farsighted collection by an Iraqi poet chronicles the effects of tyranny and war on the psyche.")

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

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The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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