Monday, May 15, 2006

Celan, Kiefer, "Shulamith"

A poem of Paul Celan’s from his time in Bucharest entitled Der Sand aus den Urnen/ Sand from the Urns demonstrates an exquisite blend of both expressionistic and surrealistic components. I will spend the rest of the week on the poem in an attempt to explain how these elements underline the impact of the poem and to describe the way in which he achieved its emotional tenor.

As I worked on the poem, I was struck immediately by its expressionistic quality and reminded of the paintings of Anselm Kiefer. In that I am aware that Celan's poetry informed Kiefer's work, I imagined, as I studied the poem, how an understanding of "neo-expressionism" could illuminate Celan's poetry.

If we understand that neo-expressionism exhibits, inter alia, a rejection of traditional design, an ambivalent emotional tone, a presentation of elements in a primitivist manner that conveys disturbance, tension, alienation, and ambiguity, then we can certainly identify a similarity between Celan’s work and the work of the neo-expressionists.

The painting above is Kiefer’s painting Shulamith, which owes its inspiration to Celan’s poem Todesfugue.

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