Celan in Australia, & Heidegger Again

CelanFriend Warren Burt alerted me to a radio program on Paul Celan & Martin Heidegger just broadcast by ABC: A message in a bottle: encounters with Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger. It’s just streaming audio at the moment — click here —, but by mid-week, it should be available as a free mp3 download as well. I listened to a good part of it and it seems interesting & well-done enough, focusing on the unavoidable Todesfuge and then on the poem describing Celan’s meeting with Heidegger in 1967, Todtnauberg. My essay on that meeting & the poem that came out of it, “Translation at the Mountain of Death,” is now gathered in Justifying the Margins, the volume of essays just out from Salt Publishing. Below, my translation of that poem, which may be useful to have at hand when listening to the broadcast.

Oddly enough, I came across another comment on the Celan-Heidegger relationship by near chance:  a few days ago as I was arranging my Celan shelves, I opened James K Lyon’s book Paul Celan & Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conmversation, 1951-1970, and found this, from Lyon’s commentary on the poem: “The hope for a ‘coming word’ in the philosopher’s heart in the next stanza coincides with what Celan wrote his wife on August2, 1967 — his desire that Heidegger write and publish some of the words about his Nazi past that he had spoken to Celan during their visit so that they could be employed in efforts to combat neo-Nazism in Germany.” This puzzled me because I didn’t remember that Celan had mentioned such strong words on Heidegger’s part (& certainly the poem doesn’t bear out such a reading, though it is Lyon’s contention that Todtnauberg should not be read as a historically exact transposition of Celan’s visit). Still, I turned to the correspondence & here is what the letter of 2 August 1967 to Gisèle Celan-Lestrange actually says (my translation): “…Then, in the car, there was a serious dialogue, with very clear words spoken by me. … I hope that Heidegger will take up his pen and that he will write a few pages in echo, and that will give warning, given that nazism is rising again. (Puis, ce fut, dans la voiture, un dialogue grave, avec des paroles claires de ma part… J’espère que Heidegger prendra sa plume et qu’il écrira q[uel]q[ues] pages faisant écho, avertissant aussi, alors que le nazisme remonte.”

Nothing in Celan’s formulation indicates that Heidegger had spoken strong words, but rather that Heidegger should write something “in echo,” i.e. in words that echo Celan’s strong words. Celan does call the car-drive a dialogue or a conversation, but as he put it in an early version of the poem, quoting and altering a line from a late Hölderlin poem (Heidegger had also commented on, in one of his essays): “Seit un Gespräch wir sind,  \ an dem \ wir würgen, \ an dem ich würge, \ das mich \ aus mir hinausstieß, \ dreimal, viermal,” (“Since we are a conversation, \ which is strangling us, \ which is strangling me, \ which kicked \ me out of myself, \ three times, four times.” Which would indicate that the conversation was not reciprocally satisfactory, i.e. Celan did not hear what he wanted to hear from Heidegger. Hölderlin’s line v. 50-51 from the 3rd version of the hymn — “Seit ein Gespräch wir sind \ und hören können voneinander. Since we are a conversation \ and can hear from one another.are clearly used sarcastically at least.


Arnica, eyebright, the

draft from the well with the

star-die on top,

in the


written in the book

— whose name did it record

before mine – ?

in this book

the line about

a hope, today,

for a thinker’s


to come,

in the heart,

forest turf, unleveled,

orchis and orchis, singly,

crudeness, later, while driving,


he who drives us, the man,

he who also hears it,

the half-

trod log-

trails on the highmoor,



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2 Responses

  1. November 16, 2009

    […] from the philosopher. He did not get it — and wrote a strong poem about the meeting. (check here and here for  Nomadics post on the matter of Heidegger and […]

  2. November 17, 2009

    […] from the philosopher. He did not get it — and wrote a strong poem about the meeting. (check here and here for  Nomadics post on the matter of Heidegger and […]

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