Tag Archives: Paul Celan

Maybe a New Individual

Art by Andy Goldsworthy

Art by Andy Goldsworthy

Paul Celan’s “Psalm”:

“Praised be you, noone.
Because of you we wish
to bloom.

Thought’s movement begins from the contradictions of the world,2 even from the non-identity of interior and exterior. There is something unsettling in the understanding that nothing will ensure that thought realizes itself. Any talk of the inevitability of a free society necessitates the progression of history, but history might have stopped short of its promise. The severe trauma of the 20th century attests to this. “Psalm” asks if there could be anything in an imposed nothingness so total that negation has no foothold. Maybe. Nietzsche wished to push ascetic ideals through itself: “a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will!.”3 There seems to be a recurring motif in Celan’s poems of making unlikely things bloom. Nietzsche also uses a motif of a crown or flower when describing the culmination of ressentiment.

Consciousness would have to begin from its regressed state. It can’t afford to forget its losses. Acknowledging defeat can be a victory, and for us it is the only starting point. The fragments of the individual, which might first appear as memorials, point beyond themselves. An adequate approach would have to see them as critical.

1 Paul Celan, “Psalm,” in Selections, ed. Pierre Joris (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 78.
2 Herbert Marcuse, “A Note on Dialectic” (1960).
3 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, in On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 163.

Corona Solaris

The sun's corona seen during a solar eclipse

The sun’s corona seen during a solar eclipse

In “Corona” by Paul Celan:

“we love one another like poppies and memory,
we sleep like wine in a seashell,
like the sea in the moon’s bloody rays.”1

Even in the present tense and indicative mood, the speaker’s words contain a distance and an “if only.” The poem inhabits the utopia of a moment, whose impossibility is felt as a lament in the comparison of the retro-future and the present. We know which one we make now.

The poem’s imagery of coronae and red water reminds me of Lem’s Solaris: “The wave-crests glinted through the window, the colossal rollers rising and falling in slow-motion. […] Thick foam, the color of blood, gathered in the troughs of the waves.”2

1 Paul Celan, “Corona,” in Selections, ed. Pierre Joris (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 44.
2 Stanisław Lem, Solaris, trans. Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox (San Diego: Harvest, 1987), 8.