Standing in the shadows of the woundmarks in the air : an essay on language and exposure in the poetry of Paul Celan / Jonathan Lee Sherwood.
This essay is an inquiry into the event or Geschehen, the occurrence, of poetic language, as found in the poetry of Jewish Holocaust survivor Paul Celan. When “language speaks”, what and how does it show? When Celan wrote both that language “gave me no words for what was happening” and that language was the “only one thing” that remained “secure amidst all losses”, what does it mean? Celan wrote “in order to speak, to orient myself, to find out where I was” yet these very words were full of their own “lack of answers” and “terrifying silence”. How (and what) does language secure and preserve, how does it speak and orient, even when it has “no words”, when it has no answers and is full of silence? These questions beg a larger question: what is it that language does, what does it give, how does it come to speak in the first place? In answering these questions regarding Celan's poetry, this essay will engage with the modern German tradition of philosophical hermeneutics, as exemplified by HansGeorg Gadamer. Examining Gadamer's own reading of Celan, we find that Gadamer's existentialist account of the occurring of language as a coming into self-knowledge and being increasingly at-home-in-the-world is inadequate. Failing to account for the alienness that lies within Celan's poems, their self-strangeness and uncanniness, I turn to Celan's own encounter with and critical appropriation of Martin Heidegger's poetics, as exemplified in the essays of the 1950's. The important notion in Heidegger's later essays, that of language as a measuring or meting out of existence, deeply influenced Celan's own work and its intentions to speak and orient. Ultimately, however, Celan submitted this measuring capacity to a intense critique, directly in terms of the “ashen-measure” of the Holocaust. Finding even Heidegger's notion of the uncanny rupturing of language to be insufficient, I conclude with Emmanuel Levinas' own reading of Celan. In the difficult ontology of Otherwise than Being, we find described a “speech without speaking”, an otherness speaking otherwise than in terms of coming to knowledge or the measurement of existence, speaking of its own withdrawal from speech, drawing us closer to the approach of Celan's testimonial poetry.
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