Collision in & of Darkness

Strange how the daily work of writing and reading sometimes criss-cross and crash into each other. Yesterday morning, as I was working on a complex/complicated translation of the variorum edition of Paul Celan’s “Meridian” essay, I again came across and adjusted a series of statements by Celan on the darkness of the poem. Here a few extracts:

It is common today to reproach poetry for its “obscurity.” — At this point permit me to quote abruptly — but hasn’t something opened up here suddenly? —, permit me to quote a line by Pascal, a line that I recently read in Lev Shestov: „Ne nous reprochez pas le manque de clarté puisque nous en faison profession!“ — That is, I believe, if not the congenital darkness, then however that darkness attributed to poetry for the sake of an encounter from a — perhaps self-created — distance or strangeness.The poem is born dark; which the poem has today..

* * *
[& from various notes towards that bit of the final essay:]

The poem coming into the world comes laden with world into the it, the world.

even the most “exoteric”, the most open poem is dark; and, permit me this maybe not totally superfluous indication: if any one poet was a vir clarus, it was Hölderlin.

* * *

… these words that, without making allowance for any supposed originality… — rather, laden also with this load, hope to find refuge once more as words . — We live in an era where one legitimizes oneself lengthily to the outside, so as not to have to justify oneself in front of oneself. In that sense, poetry, in its present mode, preserves for itself the darkness of the “illegitimate;” it presents itself without references, — without indications — thus without quotation marks.

* * *

I do not speak of the “modern” poem, I speak of the poem today. And to the essential aspects of this today — my today, for I do speak on my own behalf — belongs its lack of a future: I cannot keep from you that I do not know how to answer the question, toward what

– of which morrow the poem is moving; if the poem borders on such a morrow, then it possesses darkness. The poem’s hour of birth, ladies and gentlemen, lies in darkness. And there is little to suggest that… – it is the darkness just before dawn; I do not share this assumption.

The poem is dark qua poem.

***

…Into the world-. A congenital, constitutive darkness, then{.}, that belongs to the poem today.

Then, to change the day’s pace I turned to reading in post-colonial matters for a course I’ll teach this spring, and immediately got stopped in my tracks by this quote from Franz Fanon:

The business of obscuring language is a mask behind which stands out the much greater business of plunder.

Obviously they are not in true opposition: Fanon is speaking of willful obfuscation in ideological discourse meant to do a snow job on a subjugated population while creating an alibi for the oppressor. Celan, on the other hand, speaks about a condition of poetry today, about the nature of language qua language and the poet’s job in relation to this phenomenological autopsy of the core matter of poetry. But again, as those two thoughts collide by the chance meeting on my translator’s operating table of two books that could be described as as different than an umbrella and a sewing machine, I hold my breath for a moment, wondering about the schizo-nature of our wanderings in language and the schizo-relations between language and world.
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1 Response

  1. Nicholas Manning says:

    One of those moments, rare perhaps, where art’s sociology, if nothing more than its ‘enracinement’ in a community, deeply comforts me :

    « Est-il légitime de s’autoriser de l’expérience de l’ineffable, qui est sans doute consubstantielle à l’expérience amoureuse, pour faire de l’amour comme abandon émerveillé à l’œuvre saisie dans sa singularité inexprimable la seule forme de connaissance qui convienne à l’œuvre d’art ? . . . A tous ces défenseurs de l’inconnaissable, acharnés à dresser les remparts imprenables de la liberté humaine contre les empiétements de la science, j’opposerai ce mot, très kantien, de Goethe, que tous les spécialistes des sciences naturelles et des sciences sociales pourraient faire leur : ‘Notre opinion est qu’il sied à l’homme de supposer qu’il y a quelque chose d’inconnaissable, mais qu’il ne doit pas mettre de limite à sa recherche.’ »

    Pierre Bourdieu, « Les Règles de l’Art »

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