vrijdag 28 juli 2017

Paul Celan and the Holocaust



- Auteur: Shira Wolowsky


Broken Wor(l)ds

"All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war."
Walter Benjamin



Paul Celan is an example.  Critics of culture typically cite him as an extreme instance of an age in which art is hermetic, self-referential, and enclosed in its own language.  Thus, T.W. Adorno calls Celan the foremost representative of a poetry intent on "the sealing of the artwork against empirical reality."  To George Steiner, he epitomizes the "deepening privacy," "hermeticism," and "autism" of a poetry in which "language is focused on language as in a circle of mirrors."  Michael Hamburger alludes to him as the most extreme of the post-war extremist artists (adding that "all art informed by an intense awareness is extremist in our time"), and commends him for a "reticence that leaves the unspeakable unspoken."  All agree that Celan's is a poetry in a closed circle, withdrawn into itself, whose obscurity so challenges interpretation as to border on silence as much as on utterance.  In this, it seems to fulfill the tendencies foretold by Ortega y Gasset of an art that presents "only the pure artistic elements" and of the whole project announced by Mallarme' of making the world into a book-- what Celan calls "thinking through the consequences of Mallarme' to their end" (AG: 139). 
In his Meridian speech Celan places his work as part of a modern "calling- into- question of art" (AG: 138); an art that "balances itself on the edge of itself" in its "profound tendency towards silence" (AG: 143).  But he does so in ways that no less rejects an autonomous art.  The linguistic circle drawn around Celan's work is, as it were, permeable at every point.  It acts, to use Celan's own geographic image, as a "Meridian:" "something --like language--immaterial yet earthly, terrestrial, something circular, crossing the two poles back into itself and thus-- cheerfully--even crossing over the tropics/tropes" (AG: 148).  If Celan's poems offer a language world, they do so only across wider territories--social, religious, and not least, historical.
How to read history within Celan's texts, the relation between history and lyric, remains, however, a central and pressing interpretive challenge.  That Celan's language in some sense registers historical forces is impossible to avoid, given his biography.  Born Paul Anschel in 1920 in Czernovitz, then a part of Rumania, Celan endured first the Soviet occupation following the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1940 and then Hitler.  In 1941, the Soviet army withdrew, but Celan's family chose not to retreat with the Russians.  Instead, along with other Jewish but German speaking families, Celan's identified with German culture and preferred to remain and welcome the advancing Nazi occupational force.  Thus, in the autumn of 1942 Celan's parents were shot after transport to Transnistria.  Celan himself survived the war doing forced labor.  
Nevertheless, treatments of Celan's work tend to remain contained within boundaries that his poetics directly challenge.  On the one hand, he has an acknowledged place in discussions of Holocaust literature.  On the other, his texts are treated as autonomous structures in which extra-textual concerns consistently disappear into aesthetic ones.  They are then viewed, as James K. Lyon sums up, "from the vantage point of structure, linguistics, symbolism, philosophy, and occasionally ideology."  Thus, Celan's work has been characteristically approached through literary theory, as in Henriette Beese's Nachdichtung als Erinnerung and Winfried Meninghaus' Magie der Form; or philosophical categories, as in Hans-Georg Gadamer's study Wer bin Ich; Dietland Meinecke's Wort und Name bei Paul Celan; or Margret Scharer's Negationen im Werke Paul Celans; of linguistics, as in Adelheid Rexheuser's Sinnsuche und Zeichen-Setzung in der Lyrik der fruhen Celan Alongside these theoretical-philosophical studies are those which approach Celan through the religious features and backgrounds of his work, such as Paul Celan als Ju"discher Dichter.  And alongside these in turn are historical studies--Klaus Voswinckel's Verweigerte Poetisierung der Welt, or the Marlies Janz's Vom Engagement Absoluter Poesie and Lielo Anne Pretzer's Geschichts- und sozialkritische Dimensionen in Paul Celans Werk, which situate Celan within his historical epoch, but, strangely, no less than other studies, see his art as an alternative world.
Still to be achieved is a view of Celan's work in its integrity, where all these various concerns and impulses join together within his specific practices.  In discussions of the Holocaust, the problem persists of establishing contacts between a language seemingly pure in its self-reflection and a surrounding social-historical world.  There the poems selected for discussion, such as "Deathfugue" (Todesfuge) tend to be those explicitly descriptive of Holocaust events; and discussion tends to be determined by the broader issues of Holocaust studies, rather than by Celan's particular poetic.  Conversely, in studies of poetics, emphasis remains on the self-referential nature of Celan's art, its making of poetry into a theme, its approach to silence as this relates to the purity of its form.  Again and again the poem is described as "a poem about poetry, about language and about progressive silence."  We are reminded of how "many poetic texts in modernity are directed towords reflections about their own textuality, so as to be a poem about itself." Celan's language is described as "becoming in an unmediated way real, not as a system of conveying meaning from extra-linguistic reality."  Peter Demetz explains Celan's progress from early texts to his later increasing abstractions as a relentless "search for the absolute essence of poety," for "an ultimate language structure, unsullied and permanent (the Platonic idea of the poem)."  Even attempts to discuss Celan's "debate with language" as a "debate with reality and the place of man within it" become discussions of how Celan's relation to the world primarily consists in a refusal to relate to it:  Language--and with it poetry--becomes in the face of discovered reality no longer the ability to express and make true statements.... The poem itself appears now as the attempt to undo language, so that poetry is no longer symbolic, but symbolist, no longer nature poetry, but "pure poetry."
Such formalist reification of the text, isolating textual structure and excising all interrelation with concrete social-political situation, does particular violence to Celan's work.  Against it stand Celan's own claims: to a poetry which he opposes to the "French", in that it "doesn't glorify, doesn't poeticize, but names and places, attempts to measure the realm of the given and of the possible" (GW: 167).  As Gerhard Neumann observes, for Celan, in contrast with Mallarme', "the isolation of language, its non-attainment of reality carries in itself the secret of an encounter with reality."  And while Beda Allemann sees Celan's as a poetry in which "language itself in an unmediated way comes to seem real and not a system of carriers of meaning meant to confront extra-linguistic reality," he also acknowledges Celan's "motive of seeking reality."  This is a point to which Celan returns again and again.  He tells that he set out to write poetry in order "to orient myself,... to outline reality for myself." And he insists: "certainly it is never language itself, language as absolute, but rather always in terms of the specific angle of inclination of the existence of the speaking I, for its contours and its orientation.  Reality is not, reality is to be sought and won" (LF,  GW 167.   [GW III 186] check
This task of attaining reality begins in Celan's earliest work, often through direct historical reference--at least with regard to the fact of the vast dead.  These especially haunt his first, perhaps most immediately personal (and also revoked) volume of verse, Der Sand aus den Urnen, [Sand out of Urns]: "when, sultry, the dead multiply. /  Silent I sketch death" (wenn schwu"l sie das Sterben vermehren. / Schweigsam entwerf ich mir Tod"; SU: 10).  Among these dead are his parents; and he receives, in another poem, a letter from his mother concerning his father.  She asks: "Child, oh a kerchief, to wrap myself with, when flashings from helmets .. when snowy the bones of of your father dusts."  (Kind, ach ein Tuch, mich zu hu"llen darein,wenn es blinket von Helmen... wenn schneeig sta"ubt das Gebein deines Vaters; SU: 19).  This letter is brought to the poet by "the autumn under the monastic habit" (der Herbst unter mo"nchischer Kutte).  Autumn, the season of his parents' deportation, is in Celan's work often penetrated by that violence, which in turn spreads through and across landscape and volume:  "Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine, / my blond mother came not home." (Lo"wenzahn, so gru"n ist die Ukraine. / Meine blonde Mutter kam nicht heim; MG G I: 19) he writes in Poppy and Memory, a volume caught between the need to forget as both an overwhelming and endlessly impossible task.  In From Threshold to Threshold, the pairs preserved from Noah's flood instead are immersed in a wine that never rests or erases: "In twos the dead swim, in twos, flooded with wine," (Zu zweien schwimmen die Toten, zu zweien, umflossen von Wein; G I, 101)  while the poet continues to lie "in the shadow of erect corpses," (im Schatten aufgerichteter Leichen; G I 89).  
Obviously, such direct reference is recognized as such, and Celan's war-background is always assumed.  Yet, historical questions are rarely integrated with questions of poetics. Even "Deathfugue," Celan's best known memorial poem of strict forms and a direct portrayal of concentration camp life, has been anthologized for classroom use, accompanied by a note to instructors to direct attention to the text "lest student discussion deviate from the work of art to the persecution of the Jews."  When historical context is admitted, it tends to become part of an ahistoricist linguistic argument.  Thus, Janz, Voswinkel and Pretzer, who attempt to discuss Celan in social-historical terms, do so in the context of Adorno's aesthetic theory where the aesthetic object spurns marketability and even utility.  Here the refusal to communicate becomes resistance to the "instrumental rationalization" of "alienated bourgeois capitalist society."  Celan's thus becomes a "non-instrumental language" in which the "darkness" of obscurity "counters the poem against rapid consumerism;" and the impulse to "negation and destruction of language" brings it into resistance against the "culture industry" which would render poetry "harmless."  In the very effort to place Celan's language in social context, non-communication and the self-reflexivity of language here remain central interpretive assumptions.  
In Celan, despite the urgency of his biography, there is a difficulty of contextualization, of recognizing the trace of events within texts that can appear hermetically sealed.  This trace profoundly determines his silences--silences that certainly also bind him closely to inexpressiblity as the failure of language before historical atrocity, as writers on the Holocaust emphasize and explore.  Yet history is inscribed not only in his silences, but also in Celan's language, and indeed on every level.  In its individual words, its lyric structures, and its interlocking patterns, Celan's poetry acts as a field of historical record and historical investigation.  That this leads, in Celan, to problems of religious and metaphysical claim only confirms his particular historical experience and context.  Celan's work brings these several spheres--the aesthetic, the historical, and the metaphysical--into a particularly imperative relation.  It is a peculiar task of his work to render their mutual confrontation.  Within such encounter, Celan's own poetics takes place.  His formal characteristics, his very language use, register forces that meet within the poems but are by no means contained by them. 
Just how linguistic, historical, and religious modes interpenetrate in Celan can be seen in such a poem as "All Souls" (Allerseelen), one of several texts that serve almost as master or genre-poems, bringing together the various forces that meet and counteract in Celan's work:
        What have I 
done?
Enseeded the night, as if
others might exist, nightlier
than this.

Birdflight, stone-flight, a thousand
inscribed paths.  Glances,
robbed and plucked.  The sea,
tasted, drunk away, dreaming away.  One hour,
soul-eclipsed.  The next, an autumn-light, 
brought as offering to a blind
feeling, which came this way.  Others, many,
without place and heavy out of themselves: sighted and    avoided.
Foundlings, stars,
black and full of speech: named
for a silenced oath.

And once (when? this too is forgotten):
felt the counter hook
where the pulse dared a counter-action.

Was hab ich
getan? 
Die Nacht besamt, als ko"nnt es
noch andere geben, na"chtiger als
diese.

Vogelflug, Steinflug, tausend
beschriebene Bahnen.  Blicke,
geraubt und gepflückt. Das Meer,
gekostet, vertrunken, vertra"umt.  Eine Stunde,
seelenverfinstert.  Die na"chste, ein Herbstlicht, dargebracht   einem blinden
Gefühl, das des Wegs kam.  Andere, viele, 
ortlos und schwer aus sich selbst: erblickt und 
umgangen.
Findlinge, Sterne,
schwarz und voll Sprache: benannt
nach zerschwiegenem Schwur.

Und einmal (wann? auch dies ist vergessen):
den Widerhaken gefühlt,
wo der Puls den Gegenakt wagte. 
                                    (SG G I: 183)  

First, there is the declared act of poetic creation, "enseeding" the night.  The night, moreover, indeed the world and the very cosmos is itself linguistic--"a thousand inscribed paths," "stars, black and full of speech."  Yet it is a linguistic realm whose fabric, whose order has been fundamentally torn and betrayed: "named for a silenced oath."  "Oath," however, points in two directions at once, to the religious realm also invoked in the poem's title, but no less (as is also true of the poem's title) to the concrete realm of human commitment and community.  Such multivalence of language is, however, by no means restricted to the particular content and specific centrality of the word "oath."  It penetrates Celan's language at every moment, giving rise to word deformations, compounds, and neologisms that are among his most pronounced stylistic features: "birdflight, stoneflight;" "soul-eclipsed."  Each and every word in Celan potentially fractures, pointing in many directions at once--towards other words within his opus, without reference to which it is almost impossible to read him. "All Souls," for example, takes place in an "autumn-light," recalling autumn as a recurrent countersign for the season of his parents' death.  In this way his words move into the surrounding word and world contexts.
Finally, within this poem emerge problems of location and of parameters, and intimately linked to these, problems and projects of selfhood and of address.  The poem boldly begins with an "I."  Yet the borders of the "I" are insistently deformed and made permeable, indefinitely placed and impossible to locate.  The "I" thus flows out into the night as insemination. "Glances," "a blind feeling" are announced but not ascribed within any person and with no markers establishing point of view.  The sea is "tasted" but not by anyone specified; while "soul-eclipsed" describes not the person but the hour.  At the last, the "pulse" is at once internal and external, within the "I" but also within the cosmic space into which the I has so penetrated as to lose self-definition.  At the same time, and directly related to this disorientation of the self, is the difficulty of placing "others," who appear "ortlos," without place, as "Findlinge," foundlings cut off from the continuity of generations.  Time lines have in fact also lost place, as a single "hour" suspended without temporal interrelation.  
And yet this self, in many ways so ill-defined and indeed threatened in its integrity, stands ready and open towards "others" perhaps no less ill-defined.  The poem concludes as an unlocated pulse awaits or perhaps dares a "counter-action," some responsive moment, some responding gesture.

Contexts of the Self

A text such as "All Souls" points at once inward into the poet's interior life; and at the same time outward toward and into public spaces.  At issue, moreover, is not direct historical reference only.  The specific historical face of Celan's poems often remains riddling, enigmatic, effaced.  History enters into Celan's work not only as particular events or memories, but as a constellation through which many different structures of Celan's world attain to form.  This begins with the structures of the self, which, in Celan's work, are far from secure.  Celan's world is a broken one; and this profoundly penetrates the self, itself a cross-territory of history, as in "Today and Tomorrow" (Heute und Morgen):
 So stand I, made of stone, into the 
distances to which I led you:

Washed out 
by driftsand: the two
caves on the lower brow-edge.
Eyed darkness within.

Pounded through by hammers heaved in silence:
the place
where the wing-eye grazed me.
behind it,
secreted in the wall,
the step on which the Remembered squats.

Here,
endowed from nights,
a voice seeps,
out of which you scoop the drink.

 So steh ich, steinern, zur
Ferne, in die ich dich fu"hrte:

Von Flugsand
ausgewaschen die beiden
Höhlen am untern Stirnsaum.
Eräugtes
Dunkel darin.

Durchpocht 
von schweigsam geschwungenen Hämmern
die Stelle,
wo mich das Flügelaug streifte.

Dahinter,
ausgespart in der Wand,
die Stufe,
drauf das Erinnerte hockt.

Hierher
sickert, von Nächten beschenkt,
eine Stimme,
aus der du den Trunk schöpfst.  
(SG G I: 158) 

"So stand I."  But the "I" which this poem seems so confidently to declare at once becomes split, divided between itself and a "you" half rhetorical, arrived at only across "distances."  That this interior distance also composes a landscape--the "two caves" are eyes "on the lower brow-edge"-- does little to give it clearer contour.  The landscape-self remains a collection of parts without integrated shape, its own interior an inaccessible "darkness within," and its exposed parts subject to corrosive elements: "washed out by driftsand." Nor does the self-consciousness with which he observes himself restore a sense of unity.  It only confirms a sense of disjunction, as the cave-eyes meet a "wing-eye" externalized and watching, but not re-integrated into any unifying perspective.
The distribution and dissolution of self here represented is recurrent throughout Celan's work.  Different parts of the body are often isolated in grotesque or even violent fashion.  He pursues himself into "the emptiness where entrails entwine" (Im Leeren wo sich die Kuttel rankt; LZ G II: 277); to a place where "we are ladeling nervecells" (wir lo"ffeln Nervenzellen; FS G II: 181).  There is a violence penetrating ever inward: "Behind skull-splinters" (Hinter Schla"fensplittern; SP G II: 412), "The darkened splinter-echo, brain-streamward" (Das Gedunkelte Splitterecho,/  hirnstrom-/hin; SP G II: 414); "the spinal cord/ clatters together (Miterklirrt / das Ru"ckenmark"; ZH: 13); "A bootfull of brain" (Einen Stiefelvoll Hirn; ZH: 40).  
In this dismemberment, the eye has a special place.  It recurs, disembodied, again and again from Celan's earliest to his last poems.  His are "Two sight-swellings, two scar-seams / here, too, across the face" (Zwei Sehwu"lste,/ zwei Narbenna"hte, auch hier, quer durchs Gesicht; ZH: 18).  As in one of his famous poems, "Sprachgitter" ("Speechgrille" or "Language Grid"), his eyes stare (through eyelashes?) as "between the staffs" (zwischen den Sta"ben), at once encaged and transfixing, visible but remote.  As in "Today and Tomorrow," the eye's stare has special location: "The heaven, heartgray, must be near" (der Himmel, herzgrau, muss nah sein; SG G I: 167).  Celan's skies, at once interior ("heartgray") and above, are overcast in poem after poem by the gray smoke of historical bodies.  "Auge der Zeit," "The eye of time," (VS G I: 127) Celan calls it, in which "The dead sprout and bloom" (die Toten knospen und blu"hen).  Or, as he writes in "An Eye, open," another Sprachgitter poem, it is "the tear" that "brings you the images." (die Tra"ne... holt dir die Bilder"; SG G I: 187).  Just so, the sequence of weeks is disturbed, unlinked, in "Today and Tomorrow," by an interior place behind which, "secreted in the wall, ...the Remembered squats."  It is from this time-crevice that the poet's "voice seeps."  
This question of Celanian temporal modes is of central interest to Hans-Georg Gadamer in his study of Celan's Atemkristall (later incorporated into Atemwende).  In his analyses, at issue is the way in which consciousness takes place temporally, in momentary reductions, as in "Whitegrey:"
 White grey, ex- 
cavated steep 
feelings.

Inland, strewn
here and about dune grass blows 
sand pattern over 
the smoke of the well-song.
An ear, disjointed, eavesdrops.
An eye, cut into stripes, 
does justice to all.
Weissgrau aus-
geschachteten steilen
Gefühls.
Landeinwärts, hierher-
verwehter Strandhafer bläst
Sandmuster über
 den Rauch von Brunnengesäangen.
Ein Ohr, abgetrennt, lauscht.

Ein Aug, in Streifen geschnitten,
wird all dem gerecht.  
      (AW G II 19)

In Gadamer's reading, the disjointed eye and ear are expressions of the concentrated human effort to activate a poverty-stricken world.  The well-song, to be heard at all, demands close attention, which comes only in bare, momentary flashes: "Only strained eavesdropping keeps this song audible, this self-affirmation of man in a sanded-over world, and only momentary flashes break through the strained glimpses of human order.  The glaring atrocity of the closing metaphor of ear and eye lets the meagre poverty of the world be experienced, in which feeling harldly retains any affect."  Gadamer's analysis assumes phenomenological-existential categories of thought such as those developed by Heidegger--Celan's relationship with whom remains puzzling and even troubling (of Celan's visit to Todtnauberg, Heidegger's residence and the subject of another poem, Gadamer recounts Heidegger's praise of Celan's lore in natural history, his "Naturkenntnis").  For Gadamer, the "meagre poverty of the world" requires human encounter, intention, project to attain to meaning: "Meaning is the 'upon-which of a projection in terms of which something becomes intelligible as something."  Or, in Heidgger's terms, in such encounter man's "self-affirmation" takes place, his emergence by word into existence: "Man is he who must affirm who he is.  To affirm means to declare.  This affirmation makes plain the existence of man."  But such encounter takes place only within and as moments, "Augenblicken," in which "the present is not only brought back from distraction with the objects of one's closes concern, but it gets held in the future and in having been.  That present which is held in authentic temporality, and which thus is authentic itself, we call the "moment of vision."
Acts of perception in "Whitegrey" similarly reduce to "momentary flashes."  Celan encounters the world through "An eye, cut into stripes."  There are only instants, disjoined, through a cut-apart eye.  In "Whitegrey," this is a framing condition.  Elsewhere, it is the poet's focus, the poem's central and momentary object of representation:  
 Flashes of an eye, being hints
No brightness sleeps.
Un-dis-becoming,
all places,
gather yourself, 
stay.

Augenblicke, wesen Winke,
keine Helle schläft.  
Unentworden, allerorten,
sammle dich,
steh.
          (FS G II: 113) 

The self must gather itself to stand steadily under the pressure of a moment which disperses into an "all places," which contracts into an "Un-dis-becoming."  It is at no place in a temporal series.  Systematizing of temporal series or structures becomes suspect.  As Celan writes elsewhere, "The neighboring - millenium estranges itself" (Das Neben-Jahrtausend fremdet sich ein; FS G II: 130).  Millenia, centuries, seconds; seasons, birth, death, all become strangely truncated as "Leap-centuries, leap/ seconds, leap-/births, novembering, leap-/deaths" (Schaltjahrhunderte, Schalt-/ sekunden, Schalt-/geburten, novembernd, Schalt-/tode) (LZ G II: 324).  They are not frames of reference against which experience can be measured, or into which experiences can be placed.  Celan fails to establish from them or through them a lattice work of coherence.  The phenomenology of existential perception, of self-creation and world-creation from moment to moment, remains in Celan momentary only.
Phenomenology of consciousness does not, however, finally contain Celan's representations of the self and of consciousness.  In "Whitegrey," for example, sand and eye form a bridge with "Today and Tomorrow."  Sand here directly poses the problem of "pattern," of co-ordinates into which experience can be placed.  The "strewn here and about dune grass" emphasizes how such patterns shift and blow, their instability.  An ear, an eye appear in isolation and dismemberment.  These are organs for directly perceiving the immediate world, and it is the immediate world that is here disjointed.  One of its strata, however, is memory, surely among the things uncovered in the "excavated steep feelings."  "Smoke of the well-song" may also signal the past world.  In "Aspentree" (Espenbaum), a liturgy for his dead mother, Celan writes: "Raincloud, do you border to the well? / My silent mother weeps for all." (Regenwolke, sa"umst du an den Brunnen? Meine leise Mutter weint fu"r alle; MG G I: 19).  And the ear, like the eye, finds association in Celan's work with the temporally remote yet temporally frozen:  "Out of the transitory / stand the steps, // what has been trickled into the ear/ there the pre-historic culminates." (Aus der Verga"ngnis / stehen die Stufen, // Das ins Ohr Getra"ufelte / mu"ndigt die Vorzeit darin; SP G II: 387).  "Whitegrey" thus implicitly alludes to the past, as present to the poem's moment, and indeed as deforming even immediate perception.  
Celanian consciousness always remains historical, however Celan's work sustains and even proposes abstract phenomenological interpretation.  The space of Celan's poetry strangely blends interior and exterior, private and public worlds.  Indeed, it is a peculiar trait of his poetics so to blur the line between these as to make them indistinguishable.  In regard to structures of the self, there is a simultaneous movement of introjection and projection, often linked through event.  This goes beyond the personal, particular experiences of Antschel/Celan as an East European Jew in Hitler's Europe, to general problems of culture and to the way the self is integrally structured through social- historical experience.  In terms of Celan's poetic, this historicized self is transcribed across a great range of verse practices, including not only the constitution of the poems' speakers, but also their modes of representation, of construction, and perhaps most importantly, of address.
With regard to modes of representation, Celan's work has attracted the attention of such theorists as T.W. Adorno and Paul de Man.  Adorno, in Aesthetic Theory identifies not only Celan but also Beckett with a new anorganic representation.  Adorno relates this feature generally to the decline of nature as "an object of poetic celebration" within the shifting historical circumstances that condition imagery itself: "historical through and through," Adorno comments, "the essence of imagery would be missed if one were to try and replace historical imagery by an invariable one... obliterat[ing] the concrete relations between people."  Celan's self-representation in terms of the anorganic is not a mere extension of romantic self/world correspondences into the arena of technology and mechanism, as though the self retains some stable identity which it expresses through new inventions.  The representation of self in techonological terms Adorno presents as itself transforming "constitutive modes of experience."  In Celan, according to Adorno, it results in a move towards a "non-representational character," a hermetic withdrawal into anorganicism as abstraction, offering a "language of the lifeless as the only form of comfort in a world where death has lost all meaning."
Adorno's argument for a retreat from representation keeps perhaps strange company with Paul de Man's reading of Celan.  In his essay on "Lyric and Modernity," de Man sets out to complicate an evolutionary interpretation of the history of poetry as a "genetic process" of progressive "movement of lyric poetry away from representation."  Instead, he insists on a continued representational element in the lyric, at least as part, as in Celan, of an "ambivalence of language that is representational and nonrepresentational at the same time."  De Man, however, retains a representational element only finally to reject it: to underscore that "the understanding it reaches is necessarily in error," to "illustrate[] the impossibility for a representational and an allegorical poetics to engage in a mutually clarifying dialectic."
Celan's modes of representation instead, I would argue, work in a reverse direction.  It is an autonomously hermetic and figural interpretation which is in error.  Celan certainly marks the penetration of anorganic, technological modes into the most intimate personal spaces.  The very world of the unconscious becomes a hurtling "Dream-orbit" (Traumantrieb) through spaces at once radically within and astronomically distant, with "planet-dust in the hollowed eye" (Planetenstaub in den geho"hlten Augen).  Yet the very space module which carries the self is a "poppy-capsule" (Mohnkapsel) of forgetfullness; and the spaces it travels through are "the swimming griefdomain," which "make note of" or "write down a further shadow" (die schwimmende Trauerdoma"ne vermerkt einen weiteren Schatten; LZ G II: 303).  That is, this inner figural space acts as a record for a grief and trauma that the "poppy capsule," far from forgetting, translates and traverses.  This transformed self as anorganic and technological force does not retreat from, but transcribes, a whole arena of social-historical reference and process.
The self, the subject, never exists in Celan in isolation.  It takes its place only in terms of social modes also implicit in the technological sphere as social product, which in Celan are in turn directly linked to the whole arena of social-historical, and indeed political experience:
        The industrious 
natural resources, domestic, 
the heated syncope,

the not to be deciphered 
echo-year,  

the vitrified-through
spider-altars in the all-over-
looking flat building,
the interval-sounds 
(still?) 
the shadow-palaver, 
the fears, ice-just,
flight-clear, 
the baroque encloaked,
speechswallowing showerroom,
semantically illuminated

the unwritten on wall
of a standing-cell

here 
live yourself
right through,
without clock.  
        Die Fleissigen
Bodenschätze, häuslich,

die geheizte Synkope,
das nicht zu enträtselnde
Halljahr,
die vollverglasten
Spinnen-Altare im alles-
überragenden Flachbau,
die Zwischenlaute
(noch immer?),
Schattenpalaver,
die ängste, eisgerecht,
flugklar,

der barock ummantelte,
spracheschluckende Duschraum,
semantisch durchleuchtet,
die unbeschriebene Wand
einer Stehzelle:
hier
leb dich querdurch, 
ohne Uhr
              (FS G II 151)

This poem traces a movement from the exploitation of nature under the sign of the "domestic" to human destruction in a "speechswallowing showerroom."  This last image, with that of the "all-overlooking flat building," "the unwritten on wall," the "standing cell" situates the poem within the experience of the death camp.  But in this poem the death camp is specifically approached by way of an industrialization that in fact reflects structures fundamental to its operation and its relation to the surrounding culture.  Industrialization is implicated not only in the machineries and technologies of the conduct of camp-life, but as its very ethos.  The concentrationary world stood in a number of complex relations with the productive capacity of the German war effort.  It provided labor for industry--there is a letter, for instance, from a porcelain manufacturer, asking for government remuneration for losses incurred when the prison population operating his plant was wiped out in a typhoid epidemic.   Even more, the inmates were themselves referred to as "Stu"cke," pieces, piece-goods.  The torture chamber could be referred to as the "business room," the deaths of prisoners registered by the set-phrase "subtraction due to death."  The killing itself was called "fertig machen," to make ready as in the final processing of a product, which of course faithfully registers the utilization of personal possessions and finally body parts of the industriously destroyed.
The reduction of the person to material ultimately governed the entire conduct of camp life, from medical experimentation to the fundamental social organizations of the camp.  This social aspect forms the basis of Bruno Bettelheim's interpretation of camp life, where he sees its entire structure as directed towards breaking down individual autonomy so as to destroy the very personhood of prisoners.  Such an intention informed, in his analysis, every camp experience, from its first impact on the personality as one which "split [the] person... so that degrading experiences did not happen to 'me' as subject but to 'me' as object."  The subsequent progressive deterioration of the individual Bettelheim traces as totally governing the camp regime: "Efforts to deprive the prisoners of even the smallest remnants of their autonomy were particularly vicious and all-pervasive... [and] brought about a commensurately severe personality disintegration, both in his inner life and in his relation to others."  Such psychological dissolution has a temporal correlative explored by Erich Kahler in The Tower and the Abyss in terms of the breakdown of the continuum of experience within camp life:  "The individual does not know what he may experience; and what he has already experienced is no longer important for his person or his future.... Life becomes a chain of expected, avoided or materialized shocks, and thus the atomized experiences heighten the atomization of the individual."
The radical instability in temporal continuum and experience such as Kahler describes suggests an interpretive framework for  Celan's poems.   Thus, "The Industrious Natural Resources" ends in negating the clock.  Life transpires in the frozen moment of unmodified "fears," in the continued presence of a "speech swallowing showerroom," facing the wall of a "standingcell" that is "unwritten on," unyeilding to all semantic illumination.  In the interminable "here" of an inescapable past, the fragmentation of time--and indeed of language--begins.  Disintegration is registered as "syncope," a missed beat, as "shadow-palaver," babbled discourse; in "interval- sounds" mechanically repeated as redundant measure.  Thomas Sparr sees these images as essentially "metapoetic" issues of litererary construction and poetic temporality, into which historical references are themselves subsumed without any representational force.  Yet to make this poem an emblem of poetry, rather than a record in language of historical experience, seems to me a most peculiar twist.  The language of the poem particularly asserts the historicity of language itself.  Under the pressure of events, language takes shape only within a "not to be deciphered echo-year" of time as a medium of resonance, but one severely disjoined and discontinuous.  Or, in another possible reading, "Halljahr" may play on "Jobeljahr," Jubilee, here, however, only as an indecipherable interruption.
The severe discontinuities within concentration camps may be one source and model for Celan's own severe discontinuities. In this sense, such reference remains highly specific to Celan's particular experience and to the particular features of the concentration camp.  But, according to Hannah Arendt, the camps represent the central institution of a totalitarian regime.  Arendt carries Bettelheim's analyses of individual psycho-pathology into the socio-political realm.  The assault on individual autonomy so as to suppress "the infinite plurality and differentiation of human beings" by reducing each person to "a bundle of reactions" she sees as the realization of the "guiding social ideal of total domination in general."  And there are still further contexts.  Celan began a correspondence with Erich Kahler after reading his The Tower and the Abyss.  There Kahler goes on to argue that the camps themselves reflect more general cultural conditions.  They represent in intensified form general social conditions which made them possible and of which they are only the most extreme and negative expression.  Atomization, the "breakdown of the human form," the "disintegration of the individual," are all features of modern, mechanized society.  As technology advances, "the human power over the world escapes the control of man and threatens him."  And Kahler claims that the fragmentation of the life of the individual into isolated experiences and contradictory responses "is potentially present everywhere in modern civilization." 
"The Industrious Mineral Wealth" may then also suggest a continuity between life within and life without the camp, not only within a totalitarian regime but generally, and not only as part of ordinary economic institutions--Arendt is careful to distinguish the economy of camp life from a normal economics of production, since productivity is neither its central organizing principle nor its central goal--but as their political transposition.  The camps themselves, in Kahler's analysis, were governed by "the mechanized processes of modern industry and technology and the exploitation of matter which they imply."  While in no way mitigating the singular horror and special status of the death camp, Celan's work suggests how its reification of person, its reduction of the human to material, is a pathology that implicates the society beyond it, and which supported it.  Similarly the poem "Chymical" (Chymisch) follows the as it were alchemical transformation of the "sister-shape" (Schwestergestalt) into chemical ashes and smoke (SG G I: 227). A language of industrial process merges into death-camp tropes in:
 The excavated heart,
in which they install feeling.

Grand-homeland ready-made
part.

Milk-Sister
Shovel.

Das Ausgeschachtete Herz,
darin sie Gefühl installieren.

Grossheimat Fertig-
     teile.

Milchschwester
Schaufel.
              (FS G II, 150).

The heart's interior space becomes the (linguistic) site of mechanisms of excavation and installation, of marketing and prefabricated parts, ominously concluding with milk/ sister/ shovel--war words established through interweaving usages in Celan beginning with "Deathfugue."  Figural and literal acquire in such texts a relation neither antithetical nor dialectical, but something closer to riddle:
        The colliding temples,
naked, where masks are rented out:

behind the world
the unbid hope
throws out
the trailing rope. 

In the oceanic wounded-edges lands
the breathing number.

Die kollidierenden Schläfen,
nackt, im Maskenverleih:
hinter der Welt
wirft die ungebetene Hoffnung
die Schlepptrosse aus.

An den meerigen Wundrändern landet
die atmende zahl.     
                    (FS G II 152)

Extremes of stark, juxtaposed formal units here turn neither toward abstract aesthetic essences nor self-referring allegorical figures.  It is in fact the challenge of the text to propose its iconicity as a burden on the reader, on whom responsibility falls to construe its reduction.  For the poem finally presents, in a surreality which, however, reality itself approximated, a lesson in reduction: its stark representation of deportation (colliding heads; rented masks; trailing ropes; the destruction of hope; wounded-edges) as the reduction of human beings to numbers.  

Deadly Abstraction
This riddle, or problem, of the consequences of formal abstraction becomes in Celan much more than an aesthetic question.  Or rather, Celan's work charts how aesthetic questions such as formal abstraction in fact spill over into the realm not only of culture but of politics.  In the copy of Poppy and Memory Celan sent to Erich Kahler, he inscribed a passage from Kahler's work: "The general, the eternal, the timeless does not endure, except as it emerges out of here and today and actually so, authenticated as its own and our being, and that what is not power within us, has no power over us."  What attracts Celan to Kahler here is the attack Kahler launches against categorical claims to the "general, eternal, timeless."  Such categories only have force and value to the degree that they are acted upon and concretized in reality, in the "here and today and actually so, authenticated as its own and our being."  But Kahler's The Tower and the Abyss traces the increasing distance between the values supposedly held by Western culture as against the actual conduct of modern Western life.  Kahler defines a value as "a fundamental significance which man attaches to matters of his life and through which he orients himself in his conduct."  But the modern reduction of men into function has caused behavior to splinter; beliefs are not applied in the context of performed actions.  Beliefs thus lose their relevance and force.  Unless they are "embedded in life," they are no longer valid and cannot be sustained even as beliefs. They retain their value only as they are incarnated in actual  social institutions and realized in human behavior.PRIVATE 
Kahler here addresses, in terms of a humanist, axiological critique, questions of culture also central to Marxist, economic critical theory.  Walter Benjamin, for example, had analysed fascism as a late capitalist effort to "organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate."  Writing before the war on the relation between technological innovation, aesthetic representation, and politics, Benjamin foretells the reduction of the human to material, and forewarns that "the increase in technical devices... will press for an unnatural utilization [in] imperialistic war... which collects in the form of human material the claims to which society has denied its natural material."  Adorno, writing after the war, focuses above all on the failure of "culture" to resist such perversion:  "Auschwitz," he writes, "demonstrated irrefutably that culture had failed...  That this could happen in the midst of the traditions of philosophy, of art, and of the enlightening sciences says more than that these traditions and their spirit lacked the power to take hold of men and work a change in them.  There is untruth in those fields themselves, in the autarky that is emphatically claimed for them."  
Adorno's analysis laments, in accord with the commitment of the Frankfurt School, the "autarky" or split of culture from "material existence as a lesser aspect of man's condition."  As he argues in Negative Dialectics, danger erupts through the disjunction between the ideal and the real, requiring a redefined relation between them:  "We cannot say any more that the immutable is truth, and that the mobile, the transitory is appearance.  The mutual indifference of temporality and eternal ideas is no longer tenable."  Adorno may, as Martin Jay argues, nevertheless still grant to culture and the realm of ideas a priority, seeing the fault in its failure sufficiently to determine social and economic reality.  But Adorno's argument that cultural accomplishment never takes place independently of historical and socio-economic realities, never exists in an autonomous world of spirit to be experienced as an inner, private achievement, has strong resonance for Celan's work.  Above all his suspicion against ideology as form--that "form and order is in complicity with blind domination"--is also Celanian: "Whoever glorifies order and form as such, must see in the petrified divorce [from material conditions of life] an archetype of the Eternal" as "fatal fragmentation."
In Celan's representations as they raise cultural questions, it is not merely cultural autonomy that is problematic, not the failure of culture to penetrate material realms.  It is rather the too thorough domination of reality by a predetermined ideal that is deadly.  At issue is not so much cultural "autarky," but what might be called ideological hegemony: not the failure of the cultural institution to dominate material conditions, but its absolute domination of them, the limitless appropriation of material reality to a specific cultural ideal and ideology. Jean Amery describes the SS state as "an idea becoming reality."  Chaim Aron Kaplan similarly writes in his Warsaw Ghetto diaries that the Germans are "a people of the Book," adding "where plunder is based on an ideology, on a world outlook which in essence is spiritual, it cannot be equaled in strength and durability."  National Socialism did not assume the mutual indifference of temporal reality and a prior, determining ideology.  Rather, it insisted on their total integration, the imposition of ideological absolutes within the social and political sphere.  Within the Frankfurt School's own analysis of Nazism, National Socialism imposes "technical rationality as the guiding principle of the society," reducing the legal system into the political machine and, in the realm of economics itself, establishing a "deliberate and generally successful policy of [economic control]."  It therefore  represents a kind of triumph of reason, where "rationality is the whole apparatus of law and law-enforcing made exclusively servicable to those who rule." 
Celan's writing warns against assigning to abstract construction an ideally unlimited power.  "Deathfugue," with its dance-of- death, its fugal juxtaposition of the "Golden haired Margaret" to whom the camp commander writes and the "Ashen haired Shulamith" whom he destroys--that is, with its reduction, abstraction, musical patterning, severe formalization-- ultimately projects a pattern of abstraction as both impelling and suspect.  It does so in ways that Celan's poetry explores again and again:
  Landscape with urn-beings.
Conversations
from smoke-mouth to smoke-mouth.

They eat:
the mad-brand-truffle, a piece
of unburied poetry,
found tongue and tooth.

A tear rolls back into its eye.

The left, orphaned  
half of the pilgrim's 
shell (they bestowed it on you,
then they tied you up),
eavesdropping, illuminates out the room:
the clinker-playing against death
can begin.


 Landschaft mit Urnenwesen.
Gespräche/ von Rauchmund zu Rauchmund. 
Sie essen 
die Tollhäusler-Trüffel, ein Stück 
unvergrabner Poesie,
fand Zung und Zahn. 

Eine Träne rollt in ihr Auge zurück.
Die linke, verwaiste
Hälfte der Pilger- 
muschel--sie schenkten sie dir,
dann banden sie dich--
leuchtet lauschend den Raum aus:

das Klinkerspiel gegen den Tod 
kann beginnen.  
    (AW G I, 59) 

Like "Deathfugue," although less overtly, this macabre poem portrays the concentrationary world, and in terms consistent with those of the fugal poem.  Thus it introduces obliquely in its last image a concern with music which "Deathfugue" announces in its title.  "Das Klinkerspiel," a neologism, combines the image of bricks tightly wedged against each other (ovens of crematoria that produce "urn-beings"?) with an image of (random) sounds playing: klingeln (to ring), klimpernspiel (tinkling), klingendem Spiele (fife and drum).  Particularly the last, the military band, evokes associations with "Deathfugue," where the camp guard "commands us to play for the dance" and where camp life is itself constituted of fugally juxtaposed motifs.  This is, however, not mere abstraction or metaphor.  Every camp had its orchestra comprised of prisoners, whose duty was to play at executions as well as during regular morning and evening roll-calls.  The music had moreover an integral function within camp regimen, one with the full force of terror: a failure to march to the correct tempo was punishable, and could even be fatal.  "The voice of the Lager," Primo Levi calls the music.  "The perceptible expression of its geometrical madness, of the resolution of others to annihilate us as men in order to kill us more slowly afterwards."  A geometrical madness: Levi's description echoes another sequence in the poem--"They eat:  the mad-brand-truffel, a piece of unburied poetry, found tongue and tooth."  Poetry too is mad--and yet also grotesquely familiar, like a name-brand (ha"usler) product.  Procured in a bestial manner, unearthed from the soil, tongue and tooth, it stands as a border crossing between the savage and the civilized, no longer as the mark of their distinction, but of their continuity and mutual reflection.
The image of music is here pivotal.  Thomas Mann, adopting it in Dr. Faustus as a symbol for German culture, remarks:  "The relation of the German to the world is abstract and mystical, i.e., musical."  There is then a danger that German inwardness, "Innerlichkeit," will force such a 'musical' culture onto the non-metaphysical 'human' realm of social and political reality."  Music is a sphere of necessary laws without reference to an accidental world external to it.  The vision of pure relations to which the musical mind has access can "refuse to relate outward, to take reality for arbiter."   
A poem such as "Landscape with Urn-beings" begins to probe such ideological territories, with their aesthetic corollaries.  The musical imagery, especially when mediated through its more overt presence in "Deathfugue," inevitably asserts not only the specific historical site of music in death camps but the further ones of music within a tradition of German culture, its long symbolic association with philosophical idealism educed by Thomas Mann in Dr Faustus.  Thomas Mann's Devil accordingly invites Leverkuhn "to break through time itself," to enter an absolute world beyond time, beyond the conditions of the mutable world of his own humanity, and thus "dare to be barbaric--twice barbaric indeed, because of coming after the humane."  Particularly its modes of representation within ideological contexts is important to other long Celan poems based in musical motifs, such as "Voices" and "Stretto."  In "Landscape," it takes its place, as does poetry, in a structure, a landscape, out of which the living human has been reduced, bleached, indeed reversed: "A tear rolls back in the eye."  Humane response itself is excluded, defeated, as is any framework for its significant articulation:
        The left, orphaned  
half of the pilgrim's 
shell (they bestowed it on you,
then they tied you up),
eavesdropping, illuminates the room: 
A pilgrimage begins in longing but points towards fulfillment.  Its arc moves from sorrow to joy in reaching what will justify sorrow, in the established pattern of theodicy.  Here there is only an orphaned left half (a play on "Ha"ftlinge," the prisoner of the camp?) of a pilgrem shell (elsewhere Celan writes of a "deathshell" (Totenmuschel; SG G I: 147), which fails to achieve completion.  Granted the first half of the pilgrim shell, the pilgrim fails to receive the second half.  It is a half- theodicy: longing, search, need, sorrow, but no fulfillment, justification, peace, reconciliation.  The poem as an interrupted arc, a search without finding, a suffering without redemption.  Theodicy itself is emptied, a half-shell, incomplete.
Nevertheless, Celan concludes: "the clinker-playing against death can begin."  Against death.  The very instrumentation that signals deathliness also, here, opposes it.  One recalls Celan's specific contraversy with Adorno, who, apparently in response to "Deathfugue" had declared: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.  And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today."  To this Celan retorted: in poetry "we know at last where to seek the barbarians."  (Later, Adorno retracted: "It may have been wrong," he concedes in Negative Dialectics, "to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems... But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living."  To this Celan had less to reply; he committed suicide in April 1970.)  What exactly can art accomplish, in rendering into formal beauty events that defy representation?  Is Celan's severe formalization an escape, even a transfiguration?  Or is it a form of resistance and exposure?  
In a poem such as "Landscape with Urn-beings," abtraction exposes the orders of abstraction as potentially lethal.  Celan's radical forms are self-exposing.  And they never claim to achieve determinate coherence, but rather show abstraction as resistant to interpretation, as in itself empty of human experience.  This is a resistance Celan generally urges.  It extends to a refusal of comprehensive formulae; to a suspicion against any accomplished translation from realm to realm, or representation of realm by realm.  It radically suspects metaphor itself.  Already in the early essay on "Edgar Jene and the Dream of Dream," he had mocked metaphoricity as an "Old identity-tradesman (Identita"tskra"mer)! what have you seen and recognized, brave doctor of tautology?"(GW ?: 155).  Later events gave this personal skepticism frightful application, in events that defy and indeed forbid representative claim.  Thus, Jean Amery, speaking At the Mind's Limit, warns against metaphoric transfigurations of the concentrationary world: "one comparison would stand for another and we would be hoaxed into a hopeless merry-go-round of figurative speech."  The experience defies and fractures analogy; and, in Celan's work, few attempts at direct description are made.  
Instead, analogical states are made as it were contiguous.  Celan's work points always towards, and resides along, a border of representation that insists ever on its own limits.  Retaining this precarious position between representation and its impossibility is fundamental and central to his entire project-- one way his art "balances on itself."  This is the case even, or especially, where abstraction takes on representational force.  The image of Hell is a case in point.  The smoke-mouths of urn-beings recall infernal realms, such as those where Dante's damned also spoke in flame.  This analogy, too, however, has severe limits: one hell represents the other, and yet also does not.  Dante's hell had an established place within the economy of divine justice, making it, in orthodox Christian theology, an indispensable part of the great structure of redemption finalized in heaven.  Here the structure of theodicy is contested.  Indeed, the very appeal to an other world as reference for this one emerges as terrifying.  The image of the war's world as infernal is in fact an established topos for its representation.  Carl Jung, for example, even before the war, had warned of an awakening of "chthonic daemons" in which "the forces of the unconscious have broken into the premises of what seemed to be a tolerably ordered world;" and George Steiner has described the camps as "Hell made immanent... the transference of Hell from below the earth to its surface" in "the deliberate enactment of a long, precise imagining."  What Celan brings to awareness is the demonic nature not of hell only, but of all absolute imaginings.  In this regard, there is little to choose between hell and utopia.  Thus W.H. Auden calls Hitler a Utopian: "even Hitler would have defined his New Jerusalem as a world where there are no Jews, not where they were being gassed by the million day after day in ovens, but he was Utopian, so the ovens had to come in."  
The image of utopia, like that of hell, suggests a pathology of the metaphysical: not of the collapse of metaphysical belief, but of its aggressive displacement onto the physical world: the incursion into physical, temporal, conditional reality by a metaphysic.  This is an inversion of religious systems which try to sanction the physical world in the metaphysical, the temporal in the absolute.  Instead, the absolute is instituted as the suppression of the mutable, accidental, conditional world. In this pathology, absolutist structures are not defeated: they conquer.
The world of Dachau was in this sense an abstract world of pure formal relations.  Its order followed inexorably from principles accepted absolutely.  For those principles, all individuality, idiocyncracy, accidental human attributes were to be eradicated.  But purity of form, when applied to the non-metaphysical and human realm, renders it inhuman.  It invites, then, imagery drawn from an other world.  Arendt, for example, writes of the camps: "Seen from the outside, they and the things that happen in them can be described only in images drawn from a life after death, that is, a life removed from earthly purposes... a world which is complete with all sensual data of reality but lacks that structure of consequence and responsibility without which reality remains for us a mass of incomprehensible data."  
The image of Hell, but also of Utopia, raises questions about absolute states, imagined as ultimate ends, and therefore as commanding limitless means.  As in Hannah Arendt's analysis, such pursuit of the idea breeds a "contempt for reality and factuality... for the sake of complete consistency."  And this entails the elimination of "sponteneity itself as an expression of human behavior and [a] transforming the human personality into a mere thing."  From this point of view, the camps represent not a breakdown of structure or even of rationality.  They instead displace the sponteneous, unpredictable resistance to system of the human world as non-absolute, conditional, and unfinalized; in the name of something absolute, totally finalized, and unconditioned.  But this, indeed, is what the Nazi's, in their dream of a millenial Reich, set out to accomplish, with the camps the fullest realization of their ideal order, of the order of the ideal.  
The result is a strange alienation between what is traditionally meant by culture as humanistic attainment and a reality of human degradation.  But there is also a strange confusion between the two--an application, in Walter Benjamin's terms, of the principles of the formal orders of aesthetic achievement to the social-political world:  "Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life."   Auden makes a similar point when he remarks that "A society which was really like a good poem, embodying the aesthetic virtues of beauty, order, economy, and subordination of detail to the whole, would be a nightmare of horror."  
The absolute, the aesthetic, are, as autonomous values, demonic.  Ideal worlds are, it turns out, terrifying models for the material, conditional world we inhabit.  This terror  is something Celan's work invites us to contemplate:
 Cello-entree
from behind the hurt:

the powers, stacked
toward anti-heavens,
steamroll the inexplicable in front of
runway and entrance.

Cello-Einsatz
von hinter dem Schmerz: 

die Gewalten, nach Gegen- 
himmeln gestaffelt, 
wälzen Undeutbares vor 
Einflugschneise und Einfahrt. 
  (AW G II 76)

Music, the soul of German longing and aesthetic perfection, becomes here a kind of scarring (or worse: does "Einsatz," the formal notation for a musical entree, play on the Nazi Kommando "Einsatzgruppe"? The very language seems poisoned).  The higher realms become fearful, reversed powers.  Abstraction here remains stark; and yet Celan employs it towards its own exposure, as resisting the coherence of experience.  It is Celan's peculiar mode--neither "non-representational," nor simply representational, but an image of representational limit, respecting what this poem cites as "the inexplicable."

Language Histories

The very language seems poisoned.  Celan is far from alone in being haunted by this suspicion.  Thomas Mann had denounced "books that could be printed from 1933 to 1945 in Germany [as] less than worthless... an odor of blood and shame sticks to them."  Karl Kraus famously declared in the face of rising National Socialist propaganda: "the word went to sleep when that world awoke."  Celan himself joined Gruppe 47, a post-war group of German writers who shared an "intense concern with the German language, greviously deformed by the National Socialists" and through which publication of  Poppy and Memory was made possible.  Such history penetrates Celan's every German word.  Its tensions become the opening topic of his speech accepting the Bremen prize for literature, not least through its Heideggerean pun on "thinking" and "thanking" [Denken/Danken]: 



Thinking and thanking are in our language words of the very same origin.  He who follows their sense finds himself in the realm of meaning of: 'to think of,' 'to be mindful of,' 'memory', 'devotion.'  Allow me to thank you from out of this realm. ('gedenken,' 'eingedenk sein,' 'Andenken,' 'Andacht.') (AG: 127)

The ironies multiply: thanking a German audience by reminding them who he, and they, are; by way of reference to Heidegger's "What is Called Thinking?," with all the disturbance of Heidegger's own Nazi involvement and his own 'return' to a purer, poeticized German; and finally, in its implicit declaration that for Celan, not only "thanking," but any German word is a call to remember.
This sense of language as historical field is one Celan asserts at the outset of his career, in his 1948 essay on the surrealist painter Edgar Jene.  There he contests the idea of language as preserved from, beyond or impervious to the mark of history: 


Man not only languished in the chains of external reality but was also gagged and could not speak--and when I refer to speech I refer to the entire sphere of human communication and expression--because his words (gestures and motions) groaned under the burden of a thousand years of false and distorted sincerity--what was less sincere than the assertion that words somehow or other had basically remained unchanged!(EJ GW: 157).

A "friend" in the essay argues for an essential language, retaining its pristine innocence and purity against all temporal contamination.  He tries to conjure, through the magic of naming, a "world purified of the dross of centuries and old lies;" to attain a "state of timelessness, eternity" in which return to a primeval beginning is attainment of an ideal end.  Against such a vision of linguistic absolutes, Celan asserts a radical vision of historicity.  He insists on "the basic realization that something which has happened is more than simply an addition to a prior condition, more than an attribute of reality which may be more or less easily abstracted from it; it is rather something which changes the very essence of this reality, a powerful forerunner of constant transformation" (GW: 156).
Celan's poetic practice is deeply penetrated by this sense of history in language, which bears the record of its uses: of both the historicity of language itself, and its historical roles.  This begins with his writing at once within and outside German.  Celan writes out of, not in, German.  His idiom is based in German, but by no means follows its normative syntactic patterns or even lexical base.  The words open towards German usage, but do not conform to it.  They evoke, indeed address a German context of usage, but as this context intersects with the specific and particular idiom within each poem and within the intercontext of Celan's own writing.  It is a peculiar and extreme feature of Celan's work that words acquire their meaning, that their significance can only be located, through the complex evolution of their appearance within his work.  Words insistently call up their other appearances, each assertion an invocation, in a continual event of refinement, alteration, opening toward ever transforming meaning:
 With changing key
you unlock the house in which
drifts the snow of the silenced. 
Depending on the blood, that pours
from your eye or mouth or ear,
your key changes

Your key changes, the word changes,
that is allowed to drive with the flakes. 
Depending on the wind that presses you forward,
the snow crowds around the word.

Mit wechselndem Schlüssel
schliesst du das Haus auf, darin
der Schnee des Verschwiegenen treibt.
Je nach dem Blut, das dir quillt
aus Aug oder Mund oder Ohr,
wechselt dein Schlüssel.

Wechselt dein Schlüssel, wechselt das Wort,
das treiben darf mit den Flocken.
Je nach dem Wind, der dich fortstösst,
ballt um das Wort sich der Schnee. 
                                  (VS G I: 112)

Recalling the poem "Whitegrey," here too a grotesque  fragmentation of body disjoins eye, mouth, ear.  But here the determining context is that of language structure itself, as linked to the very notion and definition of selfhood and of home.  Self/home/language (and music? "key" is also clef) reflect and represent each other within the poem's patterns of figuration.  They are mutually constituting, or rather, mutually vulnerable in their multiple exposure to the "snow" which, wind driven, at once invades home, buffets self, and gathers around language, both giving it shape and engulfing it.  
This relation to "Whitegrey" is not external or posterior. "Whitegrey" thematizes the fragmentation of temporal moment and spatial part, the isolation of perceptual apprehension when these are not integrated into a continuum.  Among such pieces, the poet is left suspended in the kind of moment which "Whitegrey" as text represents.  But such fragmentation enters into Celan's whole poetic practice, governing the interrelation among his multiple utterances.  The constituent parts of the poem are never without connection to their other appearances both within Celan's own corpus and beyond it.  Each word in Celan is indeed a changing key, never complete within its own context, never finally established, always open towards further and prior appearances: the word as a history, with future and past.  
Such linguistic interreflection is fundamental to Celan, where it has, however, a double intention.  On the one hand, it acts as a fragmenting, centrifugal, endangering force, a radical questioning of the possibility of coherence.  It is in this sense quite distinct in effect from a search for Heideggerean "purity," or for language as an originary historical ground.  On the other hand, as in "With Changing Key," there is not only fragmentation, but also a resistance to it.  Words--changeful, blood spurting, against the weight and wind of driftsnow--are nevertheless forming.  Self/house/language are offered as figural reflections and representations, although, and this is no less imperative, never as finalized enclosures, never as autonomous, self-complete structures.
Distrust of language, then, balances against an imperative call to responsibility for it.  Both impulses take shape in Celan through his linguistic distortions, breakage and distribution of words, referential shatterings, and syntactic refusals.  These stylistic features are Celan's formal answer to such a charge as Hermann Burger makes, when he speaks of Celan's as "the flight into paradoxical stammering [as] the final consequence of a poet, who despite the violent deformation of language in the years after Hitler's seizure of power... still employs it to bear witness to his soul."  Celan's predicament is however not simple dissolution.  It is to use a deformed language in full cognizance of its deformation; but, perhaps, towards a reformation both respectful and in hope.
In this enterprise, Celan by no means evades the past.  To the contrary, he registers its linguistic invasion.  Thus, there are particular words which irrevocably carry for him a meaning derived in war: ashes, smoke, shovel; sister, mother, almond eyes; autumn: the means, season, and objects of death.  The very word "word," because it is a German word, carries a contagion: "A word, you know: a corpse." (Ein Wort, du weisst: Eine Leiche; VS G I: 125).  But the history of this distortion is also, for Celan, the history of his own linguistic fatality.  For German is his Mother Tongue: "Do you still allow, mother, alas, as once at home, / the soft, the German, the painful rhyme?" (Und duldest du, Mutter, wie einst, ach daheim/den leisen, den deutschen, den schmerzlichen Reim; SU: 14).  If Celan is to try to recover the past at all, what other past, what other language, is there for him to salvage?
 Whichever stone you lift up--
you expose
those who need the protection of stones:
naked,
they now renew the entwining.

Whichever tree you fell--
you construct
the bedstead on which
the souls pile up once more,
as if this eon
too did not 
quake.

Whichever word you speak--
you thank
the decomposed.
Welchen der Steine du hebst--
du entblo"sst,
die des Schutzes der Steine bedu"rfen:
nackt,
erneuern sie nun die Verflechtung.
Welchen der bäume du fällst--
du zimmerst 
die Bettstatt, darauf
die Seelen sich abermals stauen, 
als schütterte nicht
auch dieser
Äon.

Welches der Worte du sprichst--
du dankst
dem Verderben.
    (VS G I 129)

Every act of construction uncovers an alarming substructure.  It threatens to expose what has remained hidden, too painful to confront, but which nevertheless persists through all subsequent experience.  The raising of stones is a disturbance.  Even if the purpose is new building, it removes a prior shelter, which, however unstable, still had its function.  And the new construction is never free.  The trees felled thus become re-inhabited by the unquiet souls, a further place of their abode.  To build is in this sense to be doomed to repetition.  Yet it still threatens a betrayal of the past, a pretense that "this eon" is not shaken by past ones.  As to language, every word is marked with death.  
To build is then to build out of debris, in precarious, oxymoronic relation to its base.  Stone and tree are entangled in destruction, and the words of art are drawn from contaminated sources.  All available material has been left over from wreckage, its use threatening justifications that themselves imply betrayals.  The poet therefore remains uncertain, not knowing whether speech is a testimony to, or a revision and betrayal of, the events that found it.
Or silence.  Celan offers many tropes for language's processes.  Often these involve the notion of construction evoked here, that is, of building some kind of "bedstead," or, more often, simply of a home.  The longing for home, for a return to lost places--the "Homecoming" of one poem's title (SG G I: 156) --is poignant through Celan's writing.  This is a return that his poetry pursues and represents not only in its language, but as itself linguistic, as a search for lost words, and for the power to speak them.  It is a threatened power.  Within the idiom that establishes linguistic effect and meaning in his poetry, words such as 'home' and 'word' align with others: snow, and crystal, and silence.  The "Homecoming" is a track through a "snowfall, denser and denser" by a "self that slid into dumbness."  The retracing of a past also linguistic, without which no poetry can be uttered, becomes equally a risk of its utter loss
 Underneath
Led home into forgetting,
the guest-conversation of our 
slow eyes.

Led home, syllable by syllable, divided
among the day-blind dice, which
the playing hand grips, large,
in the awakening.

And the too much of my speaking:
heaped up around the small
crystal in the garb of your silence. 

 Unten. Heimgeführt ins Vergessen
das Gast
Gespräch unsrer 
langsamen Augen.

Heimgeführt Silbe um Silbe, verteilt
auf die tagblinden Würfel, nach denen
die spielende Hand Greift, gross,
im Erwachen.

Und das Zuviel meiner Rede: 
angelagert dem kleinen
Kristall in der Tracht deines Schweigens.
  (SG G I 157)

To go home is to go home to forgetting; to the never-quite-belonging of the guest; to a place of radical contingency, as of "day- blind dice" in a "playing hand."  Yet this is the path of return, "syllable by syllable."  The two impulses meet here, the "awakening" as well as the "forgetting," the "too much" of speech, as well as the "crystal" of silence.  
What empowers this linguistic way, which is, however, always at risk?  Celan's own poetics offer some hint.  Individual words appear in Celan always as pointing toward other appearances, other usages, both within and beyond their places within his poems.  Far from refusing referential language, as Harald Weinrich, for example, claims of the word "snow," in order to construct a "Metalanguage" of "language about language," these repeated word-chains link texts to each other but also beyond. This is a measure of their possible contamination (and even "crystal" may recall Kristallnacht;) but it in Celan the only means of articulation.  
Celan's, that is, is a poetics of address: from word to word, within the full contingency of events and utterances; but also on the whole level of utterance.  Celan radically calls on the reader to reconstruct or at least accompany his words.  This address is directly inscribed within the verse as an integral formal elementin Celan's insistent invocation of, or toward, a "you."  As he calls it in "Underneath," his is always a "guest-conversation."  To be a guest is at once to be familiar and strange, to be given place, but not to belong.  It is a vulnerable relation, yet exactly because of this one invested with respect and even privilege.  In Celan, the image of the guest, and of conversation, reflect each other.  Every participant in discourse is a guest; every guest commands a place at once distant and yet mediated through relation.  The linguistic structure becomes, in this way, an intercourse, an exchange, in some sense always social, and also always vulnerable.  Even "silence" is here distributed socialized, between "my speaking" and "you."  Silence, too, takes place in Celan within a texture of relation in the effort to construct a home or a poem, in the arc of address--even if this is defeated.

Interrupted Discourse

The intention of address that informs even Celan's single words through their scattered contexts also directs his entire utterance, and in the most pronounced ways.  Every individual word points, in Celan, to its other appearances within his work, and beyond it, to other literary, and also social-political uses.  But the most characteristic and unmistakable penetration of address into his work is his use of direct appeal to a "you" as his fundamental formal structure.  It is in terms of such address, or dialogue, that Celan himself describes his poetic enterprise.  In his Bremen speech, for example, the poem is presented through the figure of conversation, even if precariously as a message in a bottle: 



The poem can, as a manifestation of language and consequently in its essence dialogic, the poem can be a message in a bottle, sent in the--certainly not always hopeful--belief that somewhere and sometimes it could be washed on land, on heartland perhaps.  Poems are on the way also in this manner, they move towards something. Towards what? Towards something that stands open, something that can be occupied, towards a responsive "you" perhaps, toward a responsive reality. (AG: 21-22)

In Celan's poetics of address, words are "on the way," are moving "toward."  In this, each word is thoroughly dialogized, in ways like those Bakhtin proposes.  In particular, Celan's poetics recalls Bakhtin's notion of the "microdialogue" as "dialogic relationships... inside the utterance, even inside the individual word," so that in the word different "voices... hear each other constantly, call back and forth to each other, and are reflected in one another."  The Celanian word is never closed, never finalized; it always opens towards past and further uses, within his own texts and within historical usages.  His words evoke and invoke, call up and answer to moments of utterance which therefore always face each other, intend each other.  And they do so, above all, through direct address to a "you" that structures not only the verse form, but also the speaker, and not least, the audience of the poem--a possible "responsive "you," a partly constructed "responsive reality."  
The extent to which Celan's poetic utterance takes place in relation to a public space, a public world of language-use both as history and as dialogue is most simply evident in his use of multi-lingual, multi-national counters or place names which also imply political events: "Frihed," the Danish word for freedom, is invoked when the "free- starred Above" (frei-sternige Oben) is glimpsed through "bullet-holes" (Einschuss stellen; AW G II: 77). The "Ausgarten" of Vienna contains a "dead merry-go-round" (SG G I: 194). "Cologne" cathedrals are the place of the "Exiled and Lost" (Verbannt und Verloren; (SG G I: 177). "In Prague" "half of death... lay ash- image- true around us" (Der halbe Tod... lag aschenbildwahr um uns her; (AW G II: 63).  The French Resistance is conjured in memories of lying "deep in the Macchia," (Wir lagen schon tief in der Macchia; (LZ G II: 239).  And the "Moldau" is where "explosives smile at you" (Sprengstoffe la"chlen dir zu; (SP G II: 406).  
Celan himself had grown up in the multi-ethnic, multi-ideological territory of Czernowitz, subject to violent confrontations of competing bids for hegemony.  In his poems, there is the sense of the word as passing across many tongues, in ways that suggest community but also threaten it.  Words are both shared and exclusive.  They are, as in "Give the Word," "passwords," used in order to be told "pass, pass, pass;" (AW G II: 93) or they are barriers to doing so. "Schibboleth," (VS G I: 131), as Derrida has explored, plays on both possibilities.  As the mark of different pronunciation, it represents difference itself.  This is a boundary that must be respected, and the poem culminates, as does the later poem "All in One," in the Republican challenge to the fascists: "no pasaran." 
This constitution of Celan's verse as social discourse offers the greatest promise for recognizing its integration of textual and historical impulses.  Far from working within a symbolist tradition of "language negating information and communication to escape the wear and tear of public life," Celan's is, as Marlies Janz puts it, an "engaged poetry," or, in Lielo Anne Pretzer's terms, a poetry with a "historical-social-critical dimension."  Janz in fact devotes her study of Celan to exploring the "relation between aesthetic autonomy and social address" such that "self-reflection of the poem is identical with the reflection of its social content."  Pretzer similarly seeks to show how in Celan history and language are a "dialectical unity," in which "abstract linguistic-reflection... reflects the social content of the poetry."  
Yet these studies remain on the one hand thematic, and on the other, enclosed within notions of self-reflexive linguistic orders.  That is, they continue to see Celan's art as directed "against conventional language" and as a "deconstruction of conventional reality."  The poetry remains a mode of retreat, an "absolute poetry symbolizing the negation of external control," albeit now with a political intention: to suggest "an aesthetic freedom comparable to political freedom;" to question "bourgeois norms of reason, morality, religion and aesthetics" which, however, finally involves a "descent into dumbness," although one that "itself has a political aspect."  Political action, then, mostly takes the form of protest by withdrawal into a world of art.  Moreover, this reading of Celan through Marxist-based categories points, I believe, in directions other than his own with regard to the poems' subjects or speakers.  Thus Pretzer speaks also of the "deconstruction" of the "traditional... bourgeois subject" as the "for-itself of the autonomous subject."  But while Celan's speakers depart from, and critique, traditional representations of the subject, Celan can not be easily be identified with a specific socio-economic critique based in class consciousness.  Nor do his representations accord with a collective subjectivity hypostasized into class and instrumental to some materially driven objective historical force.
The public space of Celan's language does, however, have important implications for the place and notion of the subject.  In Celan, the subject, as we saw above, is always inscribed within a context.  It takes shape in its relation to a world of which it is part.  This taking-shape as taking-part occurs above all in Celan through the structure of dialogue, in which the subject is itself dialogized.  It is never autonomous in foundation, nor merely inward in location.  Rather, it comes into being in the act of address, as does the subject of its address, even when the speaker seems to be addressing himself. "The poem becomes," Celan states in his Meridian speech, "a poem of one who --as before--perceives, who  faces that which appears, who questions this appearance and addresses it.  It becomes dialogue --it is often a despairing dialogue.  Only in the space of this dialoguedoes that which is addressed take form and gather around the I who is addressing and naming it." (AG: 144)
The I addressing, the you addressed, emerge only in relation to each other, a relation of dialogue.  That is, the subject is always socially constituted, never existing independently either in origin or as end.  This socially constituted self Celan distinguishes, however, from a Marxist one, in his reply to the question "Is a Revolution inevitable."  There he proposes a revolution that is "social and at same time anti-authoritarian," and beginning "here and now with the individual."(GW: 179  Social but individual: Celan represents the self as socially constituted, where the individual is both affirmed and yet placed in terms of specific conditions and in relation to other speakers.
And yet, in the very site of this sense of the self as a social, speaking being, Celan no less entwines the image of the suppression, indeed erasure, of the speaking self.  The Nazi regime, in its linguistic as in other programs, denies the possibility of opposition, of multiple viewpoints, rhetorics, or expressions.  There is in a sense no interlocutor, no other, no one to address within Nazi social and linguistic totality.  And this, of course, had special application to the Jew, who was not only denied the right to speak, but utterly excluded from the totalized community, even denied the name of the human.  If, as Jean Amery analyzes, exiled Germans could still identify with their native culture and language, the German Jew was, in contrast, violently ejected from the culture, and even from the hope of its redemption.  And if, as George Steiner claims, the Jewish speaker's relation to German is always distinct from a native one, with German always a "language which had sprung from historical realities and habits of vision alien to his own,"  then National Socialism resolved this "alien" relation by destroying it.
Celan writes facing exclusion from community as the space of communication.  He writes having to create and keep open dialogical space, against a terrible pressure for its closure. This is the pressure of obscurity and silence for which Celan's work is known and which he himself insists upon: "The poem today shows, in a way that has only indirectly to do with the not to be undervalued difficulty of the choice of words, of the more rapid slant of syntax, or of the more awake sense for the ellipse; the poem shows, this is unmistakable, a strong inclination towards silence." (AG: 143).  The inclination to silence invoked here is not only a technical matter.  It is not a failure to represent reality (or even failure as "imitative" of a reality itself incoherent).  Nor is it a retreat from "speech as mimesis of the world" so that poetry finally "points to itself and the inadequacy of its own language."  Celan's is not a poetry of failed representation but of interrupted discourse.  The words fracture, the syntax slants, the ellipse penetrates in recognition of the founding of language in exchange, interchange, address offered and received; and also, in response to the foundering of language when such interchange becomes ruptured.  

There are many, many Celan texts which refuse the power of  language to render a coherent image of reality.  But woven through them, as the fragile thread sustaining representational claim, is the need to direct one's speech towards an other, to address it to someone who will receive it--alongside the possible disappointment of this need:
   
 It is gathered, what we saw;
at the parting of you and of me:
The sea, that threw nights for us on land,
the sand, that flew through them with us,
the rust-red scotch-heather up there,
in this the world happened to us. 


 Versammelt ist, was wir sahen,
zum Abschied von dir und von mir:
das Meer, das uns Nächte an Land warf,
der Sand, der sie mit uns durchflogen,
das rostrote Heidekraut droben,
darin die Welt uns geschah.
                        (VS G I 99).

This is how the world happens: gathered, parted; sea-flung, sand-blown.  It is a flux of dispersion.  Yet it is channeled through "the parting of you and of me," a personal (dis)orientation.  Celan's texts at times seem lost in inorganic spaces.  Especially in later poems, the cosmos swirls as overwhelming, impersonal arena which threatens to lose all binding principle, as everything explodes into whirling, humming meteors.  Even then, however, the entropic force acts through, and in terms of, an "us" at once addressed and inaccessible: "What threw us / together, scares apart, // a world-stone, aphelion, hums." (Was uns/zusammenwarf, / schrickt auseinander,// ein Weltstein, sonnenfern,/ summt.; LZ G II: 246)
Dispersed cosmos is still a field of disrupted address, which severely fractures utterance.  Yet address offers the only promise for reconstitution. "Night" (Nacht) is thus composed as inorganic scene, threaded through by voice and response:
 Pebbles and rubble.  And a shard-tone, thin,
as the hour's encouragement.
Eye exchanges, final, untimely:
image-steady,
made wooden
the retina--:
the sign of eternity.

Thinkable:
up there, in the world-grid,
star-like,
the red of two mouths.

Audible (before tomorrow?): a stone
that takes the other as goal.
Kies und Gero"ll.  Und ein Scherbenton, du"nn,
als Zuspruch der Stunde.

Augentausch, endlich, zur Unzeit:
bildbeständig,
verholzt die Netzhaut--: 
das Ewigkeitszeichen:

Denkbar:
droben, im Weltgestänge,
sterngleich,
das Rot zweier Münder.
Hörbar (vor Morgen?): ein Stein,
der den andern zum Ziel nahm.
                         (SG G I: 170)

Pebbles and rubble, disparate and resistant.  Yet through them, against them, sounds a "tone:" itself a shard, a fragment, but a first sign of "encouragement."  It takes shape within Celan's pervasive figure of eyes, here in an attempted exchange of glances; and as placed within a fuller portrait that includes "two mouths."  These point towards a discourse that may yet make things "thinkable," may find their place in a world where connections do begin to emerge as a grid, "Weltgesta"nge."  The poem, then, stands open, listening for something "audible," directing itself towards an "other" as its goal.
The poem can occur, then, only as a trajectory of speech, directed towards a possible auditor.  But Celan writes in face of the erasure and suppression of the audience which makes discourse possible.  His poems make visible these counter-pressures and commitments, not only in poetic imagery, or syntax, or structural design, but within the speaking voice as it constitutes itself in its directed utterance.  The poems in this sense do not simply register the poet's failure in the face of a "world emptied of significance."  They are not simply defeated representation or failed language, but rather interrupted discourse, an image of language when dissevered from audience and community:
 Your eyes in the arm,
the
burnt-apart
they cradel you
further, in the flying
heartshadow, you.

Where?

Assign the place, assigns the word.

Extinguish. Lack.

Ash-bright, ash-ight,  /(also: a measure)
swallowed.

Measured, unmeasured, displaced, deworded--
dewo

Ash-swallowed, your eyes
in the arm

ever.


 Deine Augen im Arm,
die 
auseinandergebrannten,
dich weiterwiegen, im fliegen-
den Herschatten, dich.  

Wo?  

Mach den Ort aus, machs Wort aus.
Lösch. Miss.

Aschen-Helle, Aschen-Elle--ge
schluckt.

Vermessen, entmessen, verortet, entwortet.

entwo

Aschen-Schluckauf, deine Augen
im Arm,
immer.
                                  (FS G II: 123)

This poem has been described as an "eigenwilligen Sprachspiele," a willfull language game.  But it is neither arbitrary nor linguistically autonomous.  The imagery of burning and of ashes evoke the war-cremated.  The "flying heartshadow" bespeaks the shadow of hisory cast over all Celanian language.  The "eyes in the arm" are Celan's familiar eyes of time frozen into space, through which the self is distributed, without integration, as is the self's language.  Discontinuities, unintegrated events, dislocation become events in a linguistic/ spatial field.  "Ash-light" becomes "Ash-ight"--in German, "Ashen-Elle:" a yardstick, a unit of measure.  But the unit mismeasures, and the very words for measurement undergo displacement and deformation:  "vermessen, entmessen," measure, unmeasure."  Words for placement are themselves displaced, and break down, including words for word-placement.  Thus, space and language transmute into each other and finally disintegrate: "verortet, entwortet, entwo," displaced, deworded, dewo.  This last fragment reiterates the poem's larger question, wo?--where? projecting a self without direction, left among pieces of time, space, language.
And yet the poem is designed through a structure of address, in which the self is not the sole circumstance, nor an independent term of discourse--even if, as here, the address may also be self-directed.  Yet exactly who else may be included within this address is another problem the poem poses.  And it shows how mere self-address becomes a mode of self-fragmentation, while personal coherence depends on finding an interlocutor outside oneself.  Public and private realms prove to be continuous; not least in discourse, which must traverse some public space, mediating the difference between the you and the I, and serving mutually to constitute them.  But the Nazis suppressed the you.  Celan's language is the record of that primary violence.
Silence becomes Celan's inscription of this rupture in the exchange that alone enables discourse.  But silence has also in Celan another force, points in quite other directions.  Celan also insists on the place of silence as an indelible mark within utterance, a boundary against claim, a curtailment of what may otherwise strive for too complete enclosure.  It is, in this sense, a historical space for attempting to regain orientation, but also its limit.  In his Bremen speech, Celan makes this a biographical point: Attainable, near and preserved, in the midst of all losses, remained only one thing: language.  It, language, remained preserved, yes, in spite of everything.  But it had to go through its own answerlessness, its dreadful silence, go through the thousand darknesses of deadly speech.  It went through it and gave no words for what had happened; but it went through these events.  Went through and was allowed to come to light again, "enriched" by it all. In those years and in the years that followed I have tried to write poems in this language: in order to speak, to orientate myself, to find out where I was and where I was going, to outline reality for myself. (AG: 128)

Passing through a death-bringing speech, Celan answers death back in its own language.  Language offers a possible link between present and past, a possible framework in which to place his experience.  This power of language to frame experience is vital.  But its impulse to order is not for Celan absolute, uncircumspect, or unitary.  Poetry requires no less an "obscurity," a reticence against place and explanation, "for the sake of an encounter--from a great distance or sense of strangenss."  And quoting Pascal, he warns: "ne nous reprochez pas le manque de clarite' car nous en faisons profession"--do not reproach the lack of clarity which we have made our profession (AG: 141).


Broken Silence

Language too has its borders and its boundaries, its gaps, its obscurities.  Celan in his own language insists on strangeness, without which there can be no encounter, but only engulfment.  Against a langauge of/as appropriation, Celan  offers a language of/as address: "Only in the space of this dialogue does that which is addressed take form and gather around the I who is addressing and naming it.  But the one who has been addressed and who, by virtue of having been named, has, as it were, become a thou, also brings its otherness along into the present, into this present" (AG: 144-145).  To address the other is to call forth both the other and the self, who both come to be within the space of discourse.  But this always remains a space of difference, as a guard against intrusion and appropriation.  Thus the other always "brings its otherness," into "this present" which is always bound and partial by its specific time and place.
Celan in his language, then, is not striving toward purity, closure, finalized form.  Instead, he sees language as an opening, realized only through "this present" of particular events, always respectful of a resistant "otherness" and therefore also partial.  Yet this partiality, offers the only chance for the poem to point into what Celan goes on to call "openness, emptiness, freedom."  Only "proceeding from the attention devoted to things and actual creatures" do we reach "the vicinity of something open and free" (AG: 145-146).
Such a commitment does not, however, translate into one specific formal mode.  As John Brenkman rightly warns in discussing what he calls a socially critical hermeneutics,  "we can not presuppose that the unifying dimension of the work is-- necessarily and categorically--the manifestation of a resistance to oppressive social conditions, any more than we can presuppose the opposite, that its unifying dimension is the mark of subjugation to "ideological closure." Such judgments have to be made contextually and through specific interpretations."  Neither aesthetic unity as such, nor irreducible multiplicity within a work need entail a specific ideological stance.  To the extent that Celan's aesthetic may be theorized in terms of stances at all, it seems to point not towards one or another ideology, but away from ideology altogether, where ideology is taken in Hannah Arendt's sense. In her analysis of totalitarianism, she argues that "all ideologies contain totalitarian elements" in their "claim to total explanation," making the logic of all events "the consequence of the "idea" itself."  Once ideological "claims to total validity are taken seriously they become the nuclei of logical systems in which... everything follows comprehensibly and even compulsorily once the first premise is accepted."  Arendt here uses the term ideology in ways decidedly different from, say, Adorno's, who defines it as "socially necessary false consciousness," and especially the "ideology of culture as [bourgeois] class privilege."  Arendt reserves the term ideology for the imposition onto reality of an idea claiming absolute validity beyond historicity, even if in the name of history itself.  This seems finally more helpful toward discussion of Celan.  Such usage is perhaps surprisingly confirmed by Julia Kristeva, who in "Psychoanalysis and the Polis" sees as a most "intrinsic reason" for the totalitarian phenomena of fascism and Stalinism "the simple desire to give a meaning, to explain, to provide an answer, to interpret."  She, in turn, recalls Bakhtin, who speaks of utopianism as a "faith in the omnipotence of conviction," and quotes Dostoevsky's notebook response to the claim "that to be moral one need only act according to conviction" with the response: "on the contrary, it is immoral to act according to one's convictions."
Celan is in this sense anti-ideological exactly in his insistance on, in Arendt's phrase, the "outside factor," on the different and the other as a space kept open, to be respected and even guarded. "The poem must keep its possibilities open," he once remarked. "A given form makes the poem opaque, closed."  His reply at the Libraire Flinker points in similar directions.  There he repudiates the "musicality" of language unless "placed in a region where it no longer has anything in common with that "melodious sound" which more or less undisturbed sounded side by side with the greatest horror."  Instead, he proposes a language of "precision," one that "doesn't transfigure, doesn't poeticize, it names and places, it attempts to measure the range of the given and the possible" (GW III: 167).
Celan's sense of the danger of systemic explanatory orders emerges perhaps most urgently in his trope of "utopia," which he associates in the Meridian speech with "toposresearch" (Toposforschung) and "topoi" (AG: 145).  Utopia here evokes impulses at once aesthetic, ideological and religious.  As to traditional theological structures and metaphysical claims, Celan remains profoundly suspicious of them. Religious dogma can take on the role and repressive force of ideological politics.  Ideology, conversely, can posit its convictions with all the authority traditionally reserved for religious claims.  In short, religion and ideology may be continuous and overlapping.  

Both act then through what I am calling incursions of the metaphysical into the physical: a displacement of the absolute into the sphere of conditional, mutable, life.  But this is to the destroy the conditions that make life human.  As Otto Pöggeler observes:
    
            Does not the absolute of utopia have a double meaning?...  Is there no danger that the utopia of yesterday can be the dictatorship of today?  ... that the absolute ...annihilates the human?  and this not only in politics, but also in art, in which the last and highest achievement, the "absoluteness" that the poem would lay hands on?...  Perhaps there is a hidden confluence between art and politics, a nearness between the apparently separate... is it not possible that politics and art today in different realms are driven by the same impulse: the will, to force man over into the absolute and to be therefore utopia? 
Such an aesthetic of the absolute is not pursued by Celan.  His is not, as another critic would claim, a "reduction of language as a descent out of the visible world into an... inner utopia."  Instead, Celan raises questions regarding the whole valuation of ideal realms as the source and reference for truth accepted in Western culture from its beginnings.  Always the absolute, the unconditioned, the realm of idea has been valued not only as the highest, most utopian, most true world, but as the source for all value and truth in the phenomenal world as its more or less poor material reflection.  The pursuit of the idea, its instrumentation, has always been seen as the path toward redemption of the temporal, conditional sphere.  It is the dream of overcoming all that prevents this finite world from fully realizing absolute value, absolute truth.  Yet, as Celan makes us feel, the ideal ought not be claimed without limit.  This may in fact logically distinguish ideology from a proper religious mode: ideology would be the refusal of all limiting boundary; religion, despite its historical collapses into ideology, would properly insist on the boundaries of the human.  One would claim absolute hegemeony; the other would limit absolutely human hegemony.
In Celan, the word "eternity" is characteristically invoked with suspicion--as in the poem "Night," for example, where it seems to betray the finite eyes, making them seem "untimely" within an absolute--and therefore false measure: a beyond time that negates time.  To accept the stance and measure of eternity is to dis-place and subject actual experience to a realm not only alien to it, but which, as an imposed standard, must distort the experience in its temporality and multiplicity.  Yet, even in "Night," the image also remains ambivalent: "the retina, made wooden--: the sign of eternity."  Is this sign a negative one, as perhaps hinted by the lignification of the eye?  Or, does it promise some stability, the validation of memory itself?  
For Celan is no less painfully aware of the rift in the world made by the utter repudiation of any absolute.  This is as great a danger as its displaced appropriation--and may indeed be one motive for such displacement.  Celan is acutely aware of the vertigo described by Nietzsche, and which Heidegger sums up:

"When God dies as the metaphysical ground and the goal of all reality... then man no longer knows where he is or where he is going."  Celan's is a powerful poetic of just such disorientation.  In one poem, "The Higherworld Lost," (die Hochwelt verloren), life becomes a "madjourney" (die Wahnfart; FS G II: 199).  The heavens as a "god-removed star-heap blue" (gott-entratene Sternhaufen-Blau) opens into a "midsun between two bright shots, abyss" (Mitsonne zwischen zwei Hellschu"ssen Abgrund; ZH: 39).  The horizon becomes a "star-nonsense" (Sternunfug) when gaped into by "believing- unbelieving souls" (gla"ubig-ungla"ubigen Seelen; ZH: 49).  Facing such chaos, Celan also resists it:
        The sky-heated
fire-rip through the world.

The Who's-there?--calls
in its midst:

through you here 
it was mirrorred on the shield
of the Eternal Bedbug,
sniffed around by False and Disturbed,

dragging the endless loop, nonetheless,
that remains navigable for the un-
towed answer. 
Der mit Himmeln geheitzte
Feurriss durch die Welt.

Die Wer da?--Rufe
in seinem Innern:
durch dich hier hindurch
auf den Schild
der Ewigen Wanze gespiegelt,
umschnüffelt von Falsch und Verstört,

die unendliche Schleife ziehend, trotzdem,
die schiffbar bleibt für die un-
getreidelte Antwort. 
  (AW G II 101).

The heavens, rather than representing a source of order, now itself is torn apart as by fire, tearing the world in turn.  Instead of binding, it scatters, a failed shield (in "Who Rules?" too, the absent ruler is indicted as a "grave-shield of one of the thought-shadows" (Wer Herrscht? ... der Grabschild eines der Denkschatten; FS G II: 116).  Its eternity is mocked in the figure of a "bedbug" (can this recall the "vermin" of Nazi extermination propaganda?) both subject to, and causing, falsehood and disturbance.  In this empty space a question opens towards an answer that is not forthcoming.  Yet the question, "Who's- there," remains turned toward the absence it also records; while its call continues to define the space through which it reaches.  Indeed, the question's answer, even as absent, is still the trajectory that makes navigation possible.  It retains a force of orientation, reaffirms the validity of the question and the possibility of, in some terms, an answer.
This double-force of the absolute is inscribed in Celan's figure of Utopia.  In pointing towards the absolute as the ground of an order without which experience dissolves, it is vital.  As a reproach against the conditional, towards its effacement and suppression, it is terrifying.  But Celan is careful to locate his "U-topie" within his texts: in their "attention dedicated to things and creatures... into the region of utopia" (AG: 146)  It takes shape there as a carefully orchestrated distribution of silence and language--a silence that is broken by language, a language that is broken by silence.  The texts resist and question the sources and spheres, claims and limits, justifications and dangers of totalized coherence.  They also register and fear the absolute failure of order, and in this assert a need for order.  Celan's poems, early and late, are thus deeply marked by both the threat of incoherence and chaos when orders are too thoroughly resisted; and by the need to press back against the pressure of disorder.  This too realizes Celan's image of his verse as "balanced on the edge of itself," balanced between the intention to order and the resistance to it.  
The claims of both coherence and resistance to it penetrates Celan's very language, which becomes, in this sense, a subject of his verse.  His effort is to define and place a principle of order without betraying the heterogeneity, mutability, and contingency of historical and human experience.  Language becomes the arena of this task:
 Wing-night, come from afar and now
for ever stretched over chalk and lime.
pebbles, rolling abysswards.
Snow.  And still more of the white.

Invisible
what seemed brown,
thought-colored and wild
overgrown with words.

Lime, yes, and chalk.
And pebbles.
Snow. And still more of the white.
You, yourself:
bedded in the 
alien eye that oversees
all this.

 Flügelnacht, weither gekommen und nun
für immer gespannt
über Kreide und Kalk.
Kiesel, abgrundhin rollend.
Schnee. Und mehr noch des Weissen.

Unsichtbar,
was braun schien,
gedankenfarben und wild
überwuchert von Worten.

Kalk ist und Kreide.
Und Kiesel.
Schnee. Und mehr noch des Weissen.

Du, du selbst:
in das Fremde Auge gebettet, das dies
überblickt.  
                         (VS G I 128)

Chalk, lime, pebble, snow, white: the first stanza.  Lime, chalk, pebble, snow, white: the third stanza.  Listed elements, one by one, a composite without composition.  As darkness comes, spanning the scene, it hides and makes invisible, rather than uniting or composing.  Celan presents a piecemeal world, which from some point of view might come whole.  This point of view, however, is inaccessible.  A unifying eye which would draw the pieces together into a picture and provide an organizing vantage point is posited, but it remains out of reach, strange, alien.  

This eye recalls Celan's many others, as, for example, the eye of "Streak" [Schliere], which is said "to preserve a sign borne through the dark, / revived by the sand (or ice?) of / an alien time for a more alien forever" (SG G I: 159).  Here, too, the eye enters the scene of history, of a "Wing-night, come from afar and now."  It evokes an attempt to mediate and organize the pure flux of time and space without which experience veers into chaos.  Yet exactly how to be itself in flight, and yet a stable viewpoint, remains a problem posed without resolution: the eye, remaining "alien," is invoked only to be declared absent.  

Does Celan's use here of the "alien" have the force of an almost gnostic despair of meaning as inaccessible?  Hans Jonas identifies the "alien" as a central topos of gnostic writings, where, from Mandean literature to Marcion, the divine is designated as "the alien life," "the alien God," or simply "the alien" in its non-manifestation within the phenomenal world.  It asserts in such contexts a rift between physis and metaphysis  so absolute that although a Deity is assumed, he is entirely transmundane.  The world does not reveal him.  Its operations in fact deny him:  "In its theological aspect this doctrine states that the Divine is alien to the world and has neither part nor concern in the physical universe; that the true god, strictly transmundane, is not revealed or even indicated by the world." There is, that is, so severe a disjunction between a divine realm and earthly conditions that they become essentially antithetical.  A metaphysical realm is so extremely asserted as to deny reality to the material realm.  For all its absolute priority, the metaphysical has no relation, indeed no role, within the phenomenal, temporal realm.  Of this disjunction, Jonas remarks:

A transcendence withdrawn from any normative relation to the world is equal to a transcendence which has lost its effective force.  In other words, for all purposes of man's relation to the reality that surrounds him this hidden God is a nihilistic conception: no nomos emanates from him, no law for nature and thus none for human action as a part of the natural order.
This image of the alien bespeaks a complete break between  absolute and phenomenal realms, making the former inaccessible, and the latter, meaningless.  And yet, in Celan's poem, the "alien eye" also provides a resting place: for the "you, yourself," which is proposed here with all the force of address.  The address redirects towards the linguistic imagery this poem also proposes: of a scene "thought-colored and wild, overgrown with words."  Thought and language, principles which should make sense of the sensed, only run wild, an overgrowth of multiplicity without ordering force.  But language also takes shape as the poem, a directed discourse to a "you" whom in this sense is given place and a home.
The poem is thus not a single image, either of order or of disorder, but of their mutual pressure and of their distinct claims--and dangers.  If, here, the absence of the organizing "eye" threatens, it is an absense that also has, in Celan, positive function.  Like the silence that disturbs finalized utterance, absence has a beneficial, as well as a threatening aspect.  For it can serve as a counter-force against total possession, as a limit on complete systemization, even as self-limitation against complete self-appropriation.  Absence, like silence, acts to acknowledge and hold open the space of difference which is also the space of integrity.  A negative movement, it rescues movement as such from the final negativity of totalization.  In Celan, it is the very edge of the balance.  It requires a language that contains itself from direct assertion, from overclaiming; a language that, in this, can even point in a redemptive direction, although one less utopian than messianic:
 Word-deposit, volcanic,
overroared by ocean.

Above,
the flowing mob
of anti-creatures: it
flags down--image and after-image
cruise idly timewards.

Until you whirl out the word-
moon from which
the miracle ebb occurs
and the heart-shaped crater
conceives/witnesses naked for the beginnings,
the births
of kings.

Wortaufschüttung, vulkanisch,
meerüberrauscht.
Oben
der flutende Mob
der Gegengeschöpfe: er
flaggte--Abbild und Nachbild
kreuzen eitel zeithin.
Bis du den Wortmond hinaus-
schleuderst, von dem her
das Wunder Ebbe geschieht
und der herz-fo"rmige Krater
nackt für die Anfänge zeugt,
die Königs-
geburten.
                       (AW G II 29)

This frequently discussed poem represents at once many of Celan's most characteristic and determining features.  Enacting an explosion of linguistic power, it radically asserts a linguistic reality, with words in cosmic configuration: a word-volcano erupts, fueling a word-flood which, in the tidal-imagery that controls the poem, fills the air, and surges as an ebb and flow in the gravitational field of the "word-moon."
This assertion of linguistic world is recognized by Peter Horst Neumann, who adopts its opening image of "Word-deposit" as an emblem for Celan's general stylistic tendency to compound word formations from disparate word parts.  He sees this as a "symbolist poetics" which opposes poetic to normal speech, stripping the former of its mediating powers of communication,    "corresponding to no reality and instead creating its own poetic reality, which remains restricted within the measured space of the poetic language."  Hans-Georg Gadamer also reads the poem in linguistic terms, distinguishing in the poem between superficially driven speech as against the hidden ground of language through which the authenticity of true being is made visible.  Thus, the opening section of the poem represents inauthenticity.  The "Anti-creatures" are mere "image and after-image" of true words, a "Mob" without "name or future or homeland" subordinated to time that drives it "without direction or goal," "without inner duration."  But the second section registers the radical language-turn to authenticity.  The miraculous re-birth of kingship is a "metaphor" for language, whose rule is recognized as the ground for further linguistic authenticity in the guise of new poems: "every true poem touches on this hidden depth of language-ground and its creative figures."
Both Neumann and Gadamer oppose the language of poetry against the "normal" speech of communication.  As Gadamer states, the "poem speaks of the experience of words as a volcanic explosion, which takes off against the everyday impulse of language" so that "the whole desert of conventional language runs out like brackish water."  In this, their readings accord with attempts to interpret the poem in more directly historical terms such as those proposed by Pretzer and Janz.  They see Celan's language here as "non-instrumental" in counter-thrust against oppressive social and political conditions and the place of language within them.  But where Gadamer sees the image of the "birth of kings" as a redemptive force, Pretzer and Janz consider such a positive reading a betrayal of the actual historical situation, which remains unredeemed, and of the political action which alone can redeem it.  The image of the "birth of kings," according to Pretzer, "provides a glimpse beyond" actual conditions.  But the power of the poem to achieve it is severely curtailed.  Under current conditions of alienation, a feigned "restored world" can do no more than "unmask the illness" of current social reality.  But in itself it must fail to provide any positive image of "the hope for a better world." 
Pretzer and Janz each reject a redemptive force especially in a religious sense.  Religion merely displaces political protest onto a plane of unreality which ultimately only affirms the status quo--"a justification for those in power to perpetrate the inhumane."  To them, the redemption Celan cites is "not religious," but rather "articulates a need for redemption and not an absurd belief in redemption."  But while Celan does criticize religious structures which would promise reward and resolve suffering by transferring redemption to an other world, a religious impulse remains in him powerful.  It is one, however, that searches for a significance that is earth-centered, historical, immanent.  It would assert temporal life as the site of values, but grounded in some absolute that guarantees their stability, and supports their realization.  Language becomes, in this, as Gadamer suggests, a redemptive force.  But it does so as a linguistic figure for a redemption mediated through history-- one that, as in Benjamin's messianism, is at once historical and religious.
This redemptive movement is traced in "Word-deposit."  Declaring a dynamic linguistic world, a world in all the motion of change and alteration represented by erupting volcanoes forming new layers of word-soil, Celan in the poem posits two stances:  the aimless flood-mob of "anti-creatures" who, as Gadamer writes, cruise idly in a time without direction or purpose; and opposed to this, the miracle of the word-moon, thrust into a new orbit that testifies to a messianic rebirth.  This rebirth, however, remains temporal.  It does not signal a removal from earth to heaven.  On the contrary, the poem's imagery radically insists on a continued earth-centered perspective.  The miracle of the word-moon is experienced as an ebb of waters no longer tidally flooding, but rather moving within the redefined gravitational pull of the renewed heavenly body, and thus gaining direction and orientation.  This ebb remains temporal and terrestrial.  The word-moon is a messianic and not an apocalyptic sign.  It testifes not to the end of earthly life but towards its renewal in positive relation to a heavenly power above it, one felt within its process and flow as the responsive tie between moon and water, heaven and earth.  
"Word-deposit" remains a poem describing the poetic process. The word-movements of poetic creativity construct the ebb and flow of the world of the poem.  On this level of poetics, the poem similarly reflects two possibilities: the creation of a detached counter-world of "anti-creatures;" and a call to the "you" to participate in an open process of creation that changes the course of time's tides.  This "you" addresses both poet and reader, in challenge and invitation: to decipher, to weigh, to piece together, or to fail to do so.  In this, "Word-deposit" gathers together many impulses central through Celan's work.  It recalls his image of the meridian, of language as "immaterial but earthly," and thereby connecting, orientating, "circular, turning across the two poles."  The meridian is both worldly and of words, creating in its compass a linguistic world in which "tropics" are also "tropes."  Finally, it is "something which binds and which, like the poem, leads to an encounter" (AG: 148)  The world/word circle it traces promises a renewed space in which the "immaterial" and the earthly, the world above and the world below, move forward in mutual affirmation.
But this promise, here sketched and envisioned, often remains in Celan painfully elusive.  It is countered by a no less powerful sense of disjunction between the hope of redemption and the realities of earth, the axiological failure to inform experience with value and the chaos that results.  Thus "Heaven," in one poem, is felt "pustule on pustule;" while "earth" scatters, "shadow on shadow" (VS G I: 133).  Nor can aesthetic order alone relieve or redeem the conflagration of time.   Celan's poetry provides an image for both the urge to coherence, and its distrust; the desire for redemption, and its continued failure.  The poems court, in this, an active obscurity.  They insist both on silence and on the breaking of silence, where to be "unreadable" is both risk and invitation:   
 Unreadable this
world.  Everything doubles.

The strong clocks affirm
the split-hour,
hoarse.

You, clamped 
in your deepest,
climb out of yourself
for ever.  

Unlesbarkeit dieser
Welt.  Alles doppelt.
Die starken Uhren
geben der Spaltstunde recht,
heiser.

Du, in dein Tiefstes geklemmt,
entsteigst dir
für immer.
(SP G II 338)

The image of doubling here points towards any number of dualisms which, in Celan, lead to the illegibility this poem announces: between fact and meaning, action and value, time and redemption.  The double conjures ideal worlds such as those postulated by Platonist metaphysics, which, as Aristotle first complained, may pose more problems than they resolve.  For, as he remarks, it is unclear "what on the earth the Ideas contribute to sensible things."  While the Platonists "fancy we are stating the substance of perceptible things," they in fact "assert the existence of a second class of substances, while our account of the way in which they are the substances of perceptible things is empty talk."  The Ideas, instead of serving as ontological ground for perceptible things, seem only to duplicate them as a second set of objects whose correspondence to the first remain both logically and axiologically problematic.  

In this poem, the world as double loses sense.  Time splits apart, with "strong clocks" hoarse in their attempt to fix and affirm the "split-hour."  Yet, against this, the poem continues to take form as address.  That the "you" remains poised between an inaccessible indifference and an orientating appeal is the poem's particular art.  For "you" may remain sequestered in itself, a "you" resisting address and response. Its ascent may be an ever increasing detachment from a world it leaves behind in disarray.  Or, the poem may be a call, bidding the "you" to act as a positive double, as it climbs forth out of hidden depths, into the time and language of possible relation and positive orientation.
That these several readings cannot be resolved is part of the poem's own illegibility.  But to be unreadable here is also a positive pressure.  It is to refuse the closure of linguistic resolution, which would betray all that remains--especially in terms of history--inexpressible because inexplicable.  Its silences are a potent, unconverting testimony.  But it also responds to, and against, engulfment in events beyond interpretation.  That is, it marks a double resistance: against overwhelming silence, against appropriating speech.  
"But, the poem speaks!" Celan exclaims in the Meridian speech.  "It is mindful of its dates but--it speaks."  It does so, however,  only in that "it always speaks on its own behalf, for its most particular concerns;" (AG: 142) speaks for someone "from the angle of inclination of his own existence, of his creatureliness" (AG: 143).  The recalcitrance of the date, of history; of individual experience and memory: these situate any discourse, and must always be acknowledged.  Yet the poem does not speak only to or of itself, but toward a you.  It travels the "ways of a voice toward a perceptive you" (AG: 147) to take place in a "mystery of meeting," (Geheimnis der Begegnung; AG: 144).   The figure of Celan's poetry is above all one respecting this mystery.  It faces in full awe, and even terror, the possible blankness of no response, no auditor.  It is therefore perhaps even more a call than an address.  Celan makes visible in his texts the fundamental shape of language as a trajectory across distances, between speakers.  His then are poems, as he states in the Bremen speech, "on the way... towards something that stands open,... towards a responsive you, perhaps, towards a responsive reality."  He offers his texts as "the efforts of one who... exposed to the open in the most awful manner, goes with his existence to language, reality-wounded and reality-seeking" (AG: 128-9)


Notes   



. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 443
. Steiner, Extraterritorial, p. 164. 
. Hamburger, p. 290.  More recently, Thomas Sparr argues that modern art is essentially hermetic, with Celan his exemplar.
. Ortega y Gasset, p. 42.
. Chalfen, p. 114.
. Lyon, "Introduction," p. 7.
. Amy Colin, in her introductory chapter to Paul Celan: Holograms of Darkness, fully reviews the Celan criticism and its variety of approach.  She underscores "the uneasiness of many scholars about how to find an adequate approach to Celan's poems and to place them in an appropriate context." (p. xviii)
. Hans Mayer, p. 77; Beese, p. 7; Alleman,  "Zu Paul Celans neuem Gedichtband "Atemwende," p. 196.
. Demetz, pp. 81, 83;  Voswinckel, pp. 7, 18.
.Neumann, pp. 199, 209.
. Allemann, "Das Gedicht und Seine Wirklichkeit," pp. 266, 270.
. Demetz, p. 81.
. Janz,, pp. 12, 323;  Voswinckel, p. 155;  Pretzer, p. 6.
. Langer;  Rosenfeld; and Steiner, for example in Language and Silence all refer to Celan in the course of discussing the status of silence in the face of the Holocaust.  See also Ezrahi.  
.  angestrengtesten Lauschen bleibt dieser Gesang ho"rbar, diese Selbstaussage des Menschlichen in einer versandenden Welt, und nur in augenblickshaften Brechungen blitzt dem angespanntesten Spa"hen menschlich Geordnetes auf.  Die krasse Grausamkeit der Schlussmetapher von Ohr und Auge la"sst die beengende Du"rftigkeit der Welt empfinden, in der Gefu"hl kaum noch etwas vermag." 
. . Gadamer, Wer bin ich, p. 15.  Celan's visit with Heidegger has raised some contraversy. cf. Alfred Hoelzel, p. 353; Christoph Schwerin, pp. 73-81.  
.  . Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 193; Heidegger, Existence and Being, p. 297; Heidegger, Being and Time,, p. 387.
. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 311; pp. 312, 444.
. de Man, Blindness and Insight, pp. 183, 185.
. Distel and Jakusch, eds, p. 244.
.Jean Amery, At the Mind's Limits, trans. S. Rosenfeld. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, )17, 22.
. Bettelheim, Informed Heart, p. 244
.  Bettelheim, Surviving, pp. 65, 108.
.  Kahler, Tower, p. 65.
. Sparr, pp. 66-67.  Sparr sees the industrial imagery here as only referring to Germany's post-war "economic miracle," and not as implicating economy within the camp experience. He reads "Halljahr" as a negative "Jobeljahr," jubilee.
.  Arendt Totalitarianism,  pp. 136, 139.  
. Courtesy of Lillian Kahler.
. Kahler, Tower, pp. iv, 46, 68.
.  Arendt, pp. 142-3.
. Kahler, Tower, p. 76.
. Sachlichkeit... gegenuber den Lugern und schwarmern, welche die schwersten, dichtesten, verantwortungsvollsten Namen leichthin und dammerhaft, ohne die vollste Deckung durch greifbares Leben gebrauchen: gegen sie muss verteidigt werden, dass Allgemeines, Ewiges, Zeitloses nicht besteht, sofern es nicht aus unserm Hier und Heut und So, sich und unser Sein beglaubigend, entsteigt und dass nichts Macht auf uns hat, was nicht Macht aus uns ist.  Courtesy of Lillian Kahler
. Kahler,  pp. 187, 194.
. Benjamin 241-2:  
. Adorno, Negative Dialectics p. 365. 
.Jay  p. 177.
. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 361.
. Martin Jay analyzes this kind of contradiction within Frankfurt School Critical Theory with regard to the place of "Reason."  Even as the School upheld German Idealist notions of reason as a utopian ideal, at the same time they wished to assert notions of non-identity in resistance to the idealist value of identity and totality in order to admit historical-materialist reality into their system-- without rendering it an absolute, metaphysical truth as had occurred, they felt, within orthodox Marxism. Jay, p. 60.
. Adorno, Prisms, pp. 71, 24.
. Amery, p. 12.
. Quoted in Steiner, Language and Silence, p. 162.       
. Jay, pp. 155, 159, 154
.Primo Levi, p. 45.
. quoted by Frank, 138-9.
.GeorgeS teiner extraterritorial, p. 51.
. Adorno, Prisms, p. 34.
."Weiss Man endlich wo die Barbaren zu suchen sind." Quoted in Glenn, p. 35.
. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 363. I do not wish to interpret Celan's suicide, which no doubt involved many factors.  Yet his inevitably falls into place among other survivor suicides, such as Jean Amery and Primo Levi.  Adorno repeatedly returns to this question of the possible claims of art, as balanced between consolation for and betrayal of suffering.  See also Leo Bersani on the compensatory claims for art.  In Adorno's case, however, disappointment seems to be based in an almost Arnoldian faith in culture to save, a role Celan severely complicates.
.Amery, p.  33
. Jung, pp. 65-6, 78.  Steiner, In Bluebeard's Castle, pp. 54-5. Udoff pursues some of the distinctive features of the hell-analogy, p. 323.
.. Auden, "Dingley Dell and the Fleet," The Dyer's Hand, p. 410. 
. Arendt, Totalitarianism,  p. 143.
. Arendt, pp. 155-156, 136
.  Benjamin's remarks on war as "beautiful because it initiates the dreamt of metalization of the human body" has direct resonance for Celan texts, p. 241.
. Auden, "The Poet and the City," The Dyer's Hand, p. 85. NOTE: Georg Simmel "Soziologische Aesthetik" Brucke und Tur Stuttgart: K.F.Koehler Verlag, 1957:  based on ideals of uniformity, symmetry, and the harmonious integration of parts, the socialist goal was to make society an artwork, an aesthetic whole, by means of its rational reorganization," P. 203. 
. Cited Demetz, p. 48.
.  Amery, p. 20.
. Demetz, p. 49
. Hermann Burger, p. 18.
.  John Felstiner discusses Celan's German as mother tongue and also the language of murder in "Mother Tongue," especially p. 121. 
. Weinrich, p. 225. It has been suggested to me that the poem "Le Contrescarpe" which concludes with the word "Kristall" was written at the railway in Krakau that it also cites, on Kristallnacht.  
.  Bakhtin,  pp. 184, 75.
. Derrida's "Schibboleth" makes this poem a center of discussion, in ways that I pursue later.
 . Hans Dieter Scha"fer, "Mystische Rede am Rande des Schweigens; letzte Gedichte von Paul Celan," Die Welt 6, August 1970. Janz, p. 6; Pretzer, p. 21. 
.  Janz, p. 200; Pretzer, p. 289.
. Pretzer, pp. 63, 35.
. Janz, p. 111; Pretzer, pp. 35, 142.
. Pretzer, p.  63
.  Amery, p. 8.  Steiner, Language and Silence, p. 125. Steiner includes in this volume a number of essays on the political status of the German language.  More recently, he has written specifically on Celan's use of German in "Das lange Leben der Metaphorik: Ein Versuch u"ber die 'Shoah,'" Akzente 3, (1987): 194-212.
.  Weinrich, pp. 224-225. He associates this retreat with Humboldt. 
.  Pretzer, p. 314  
.  Voswinckel, p. 214.
. Brenkman, p. 108
.  Arendt, pp. 167-168, 155-156.
. Brenkman, p. 48; Morss, p. 45.   Brenkman discusses various uses of the term ideology.  For Adorno and Habermas it means "world-interpretation," whereas for Gadamer it means "subjective error," a "misinterpretation of the world" against which some objective interpretation is assumed -- a stance Brenkman considers ahistorical.
.Kristeva,  p. 304
. Bakhtin, pp.  82, 98
.  "Conversational Statements on Poetry," quoted in Dietlind Meinecke, "Einleitung," Uber Paul Celan, pp. 28-29.
.  Otto Po"ggeler, pp. 92-93.
. Voswinckel, p. 10.
.  Heidegger, "Nietzsches Wort," Holzwege p. 199. 
"Wenn Gott also der u"bersinnliche Grund und als das Ziel alles wirkliche tot,... erweckende und banende Kraft, dann bleibt nichts mehr, woran der Mensch sich halten und wonach er sich richten kann."
. Jonas, pp. 327 ,332.
.  Neumann, Zur Lyrik Paul Celans, pp 7, 18
.  Gadamer, Wer bin ich, pp. 101-104.
. Pretzer discusses this poem pp. 139-141.
.  Pretzer, p. 233. Janz, p. 38; cf. p. 169
.Aristotle, Metaphysics, The Works of Aristotle, ed. J.A. Smith and W.D. Ross, (Oxford at the Clarenson Press, 1980) VOl III Book I Section 9 991a - 991b.