Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Thoughts on Primordial Words, while reading Celan

Jung talks about images arising from the unconscious mind and often quotes a phrase that he inscribed on the lintel of the door to his Küsnacht hideaway-vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit (called or not called the gods will be there). These images, arriving unbidden, are sometimes archetypal, filled with emotion and weight, or primordial, fresh and newly born. Silence, meditation, or dreams open up a space for primordial or archetypal language to emerge, just as images and symbols arise from the unconscious. If we can capture these images in their freshness, newly arisen from the unconscious, and use them in poetry, then these images, now words, feel numinous within the poems' landscape. Primordial language, then, is felt, heard, and seen. It is emotive in quality, with weight as its predominant characteristic. Primordial language is like a stone emerging from thick green loam of an ancient pagan land, a stone among the scree of the Wortlandschaft (Celan). Jung employs a similar geographic metaphor to describe the unconscious. Robert Brockway in his biography Young Carl Jung, Continuum International Publishing Group (September 1997), wrote that "the prime source of Jung's concept of the collective unconscious was probably his idea of the geology of the human personality or Bodenbeschafftenheit." Each new word that springs up into consciousness resonates with feeling, which is felt through desire, desire for the sacred, the numinous, and the primordial. These primordial words are, in effect, incarnations of the spirit that are ultimately made flesh, arriving on pigeon feet (Heidegger and Celan), from the unknown, moving toward the known, and then settling into everydayness before disappearing in plain sight, like a stone beneath our feet. Once they disappear, we miss them and feel extreme Sehnsucht.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Der Riss, Etching, Geographical Upheaval in Celan

As we proceed with our analysis of the second poem of Atemwende, Suhrkamp Verlag (Frankfurt am Main 1967), I believe it is important to focus on two concepts-the physical process of etching and Heidegger’s use of the German word, der Riss, which refers us back to our discussion of Pyramus and Thisbe and propels us forward into Heidegger’s concept of art, a concept that Celan engaged, studied, incorporated, and debated for over ten years. Further, held within the word-der Riss-is a semantic connection to the concepts of divide, tear, and furrow, which rhetorically connects the second poem in the collection to the third and associates a tear, a furrow (die Rille) or a rift with the actual process of etching through a figurative comparing of the rift in the seam of Brotland that forms the Lebensberg with the physical processes of the art. According to the catalogue of the National Gallery of art -Etching is an intaglio technique whereby marks are bitten into the metal plate by chemical action. The plate is coated with a ground (either hard or softground) impervious to acid through which the artist draws to expose the metal. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath until the open lines of areas are sufficiently bitten. Finally, the ground is removed and the plate inked and printed. Etching is commonly used in combination with drypoint, aquatint, and other intaglio processes. The language employed in this definition seems to connect metaphorically with seismic activities that cause mountains to spring from the earth and locate some of the imagery in the world/earth dichotomy. Further, the divide between the mountain and the land creates both a physical barrier (geographical) and a figurative (concealed/unconcealed) barrier between the “ich” and the “du” that is ultimately juxtaposed metaphorically between the states of sleep and waking.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Synecdoche, Abtasten, Paradox in Paul Celan

The second poem of Paul Celan’s collection, Atemwende, Suhrkamp Verlag (Frankfurt am Main 1967), begins with a paradox and a nod at the etchings that his wife includes in the work. The first line -Von geträumtem geätzt (from the undreamed etched)- presents the first problem of the poem. We go on to read that the undreamed etches out the Lebensberg from Brotland. The image of a Brotland/breadland refers back somewhat obliquely to the Maulbeerbaum of the previous poem, especially when we remember that the mulberry belongs to the same family as breadfruit. So from this image of bread and food, we are also reminded of paper and the poet, which makes sense in light of the fact that the first line also transports us to the realm of fairytales. The first paradox lies in the fact that fairy tales are the product of dreams; however, it is the undreamed images that etch Brotland and create the Lebensberg. Undreamed images must be experienced images, images experienced while awake. However, the “ich” of the poem is asleep and he is attempting to awaken himself.

Before we continue, I think it is important to make some associations and to identify certain allusions, which I will not fully explore in this post. Brotland seems to indicate a physicality, an image that relates to the body-either as a living entity or a corpse. Celan was a great student of both the Jewish Bible as well as the Christian and I believe that Brotland refers to the sacrament of the body and the use of unleavened bread as a substitute for the body-not of Christ’s body here but of the bodies of those who died in the Holocaust. Further, I believe that Lebensberg is both an allusion to Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg and a reference to Heidegger’s Lebensphilosophie. Finally, Brotland is the land of the dead, where the dead wander sleeplessly and un-dreaming. Ironically, the Lebensberg emerges from the land of the dead, a land from which the "ich” struggles to awaken.

The first line then seems to signal the struggle of the dead to reawaken and, in effect, be resurrected to life; however, this transformation must be “sussed out.” This symbolic reading must be refined because it is not the dead that arises but the poet. It is the poet who must probe with his fingers to awaken toward the “du.” Consequently, in further investigations, we must focus on the poet and his “sussing out” the darkness of Brotland and the caverns of the Lebensberg. To do this involves an investigation of the methodology of un-concealing the concealed, which involves ultimately transformation or rebirth. This process is contained in Celan’s use of the verb abtasten, which means to feel, to scan, or to suss out. It has a further meaning, which might be used effectively here, and that is "to palpate." To palpate the body fits our view that Brotland is the body or corpse, where body acts as a synecdoche for a people.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Synesthesia, Snow, and Sussing Out in Celan

In the second poem of Paul Celan’s collection, entitled Atemwende, Suhrkamp Verlag (Frankfurt am Main 1967), he creates an image that relies on the use of the scientific concept of synesthesia in a surrealist image of eyes on the fingertips of the “ich.” He writes Aug an jedem der Finger,/ abtaste nach/einer Stelle (eye on each finger,/ feeling for a place). Through the probing finger the “I” seeks to awaken toward the “you.” Once again we have the poem’s protagonist seeking illumination and union with the other. This time the search is conducted through touch, which will awaken the “I” to the light cast by die helle/ Hungerkerze im Mund (the bright hunger candle in the mouth). Through touch, sight is possible through the light cast by the hunger candle. Implicit in the poem is imagery connected to “mining,” darkness, sight/blindness, food, baking, feeding, silence and creation through reduction, as presented by the use of the word “etching.”

In a previous blog I pointed out that I considered the collection as a unified whole. If my theory is correct, there should be some rhetorical unification to the first poem “Du Darfst,” which I discussed in length in a previous blog, with the meaning of the second poem “Von Ungetraumtem."

Over the past few weeks I have been contemplating the use of the word “snow” in the first poem and I believe that “snow” conveys “silence.” The “ich” says du darfst mich getrost/mit Schnee bewirten. Over the Christmas holidays I was in northern New Mexico, where I was caught in a blizzard, and trapped in a hotel for three days. On a Thursday night, it began to snow big fat wet flakes. At first it was fun walking through the plaza; however, the snow fell at the rate of one inch per hour and soon everything was covered in a thick white blanket. Eventually, all movement stopped and people disappeared from the streets. The starkest result of this freak storm was silence. I thought of Celan’s poem and I wondered if the snow in the first poem silenced the poet, who in the summer had walked with the mulberry tree. Later, I discovered another poem, entitled “Mit Wechselndem Schüssel.” In this poem Celan talks of a house, where the snow of what’s silenced is driven.

Let’s assume for a moment that the poet has been silenced in the first poem; however, in the second poem he awakens and seeks the “you.” Or on a grander scale, let’s assume that a German poet, through the Nazi period, has had his mother tongue defiled and desecrated, and now is trying to probe his way to a new language. The process is tedious and difficult, like being lost in a mountain, in a tunnel with no light, where he must feel his way with his fingers.

In the next blog, I will continue with a discussion of this poem and focus on the verb “abtasten.”