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.”

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