Thursday, June 01, 2006

Unconscious Mind in Celan's "Sand from the Urns"

Mondvogel, Edgar Jené 1950.

In the third line of Sand from the Urns, the minstrel, without a head, performs for the “you.” Er schlägt dir die Trommel aus Moos und bitterem Schamhaar;/He beats the drum of moss and bitter pubic hair for you. In using “pubic hair,” Celan situates the performance lower than the head, the seat of intelligence. The drum comes from the genitals, a more primal, less conscious region and the moist earth. “Moss,” “pubic hair” and “mold” seem to be connected through appearance and texture and align themselves with a lower more complex conciousness. We could list the comparisons, including, inter alia, color, texture, dampness, accessibility to light, fecundity, and smell. However, I believe he selected these terms for all those associations and also to create a Gothic sense of mood, to find words that would convey an expression of dampness, decay, seclusion, and earthiness and lead us to a deeper, non-rational meaning, a meaning that feels fecund and fertile.

Support for this analysis arises from Celan’s prose work-Edgar Jené und der Traum vom Traume, which appeared in 1948 as introductory text to a book of paintings and lithographs produced by Jené. See earlier post on Jené. Celan, in discussing the paintings, states that “But my mouth, which lay higher than my eyes and was bolder because it often has spoken in my sleep, had run ahead of me and called back its ridicule to me: . . . ‘You would be better off getting a pair of eyes from the bottom of your soul and placing them on your breast: then you will find out what is happening here.’”(Quoted and translated by Jerry Glenn in his Paul Celan, Twayne Publishers, Inc. 1973) Celan, first, says that the words spoken in a dream, from the unconscious mind, are wiser than intellectual analysis and, second, he calls for direct access to the heart, to the feelings. In other words, rational discussion through the intellect will not produce truth. One must contact the source of the image, the unconscious mind, to find images strong enough to perform for the “you.” The head, the conscious mind, is useless because it will try to bring order to the chaos of images. The unconscious mind, with its fecund images, conveys a more profound image, richer in quality, and fraught with the elements of depth, i.e. soul.

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