Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Man who Walks on his Head

Even though the year 1967, was dark and disastrous for Paul Celan, it was also a year of doing and creating, of writing and translating; it was a year of poetry that continued and built upon the "breathturn," which he demonstrated in his work produced in 1963 and 1964.

The year began with the publication of the French translation of the presentation he made in Darmstadt in October 1960, upon his receipt of the Georg Buchner Prize. The essay, entitled "The Meridian," is about art generally and poetry specifically. In the essay or speech, Celan writes, inter alia, that "a man who walks on his head, ladies and gentlemen, a man who walks on his head sees the sky below, as an abyss."

I postulate that much of Celan's poetry is about the vision of the abyss seen when we adjust our point of view. This adjustment can be drastic--for instance, when we stand on our head--or minor, when we turn our head and gaze out of the far corner of our eye. The change in perspective alters our view and refreshes our vision. This refreshment may be pleasing or shocking. It doesn't matter; it awakens the mind to the strangeness of the new and the different.

When something is new and different, the reader tends to concentrate. It is the concentration or attention that Celan believes the poem seeks. Quoting Kafka, he says: "attention is the natural prayer of the soul." Consequently, is he saying obliquely that poetry is soul-involving? Isn't it true that when soul is activated it grows, strengthens, and deepens. Poetry that arrests our attention, I postulate, deepens soul.

Celan's concept of arrest is described metaphorically as a "breathturn." He writes: "Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way--the way of art--for the sake of just such a turn?"

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