Thursday, May 8, 2014

Paul Celan: Driven To Madness

Post-War Poetry

Friends: Demus, left, and Celan in Paris, 1953.
Friends: Demus, left, and Celan in Paris, 1953. 
[I]n 1960, Celan explains how an ongoing critical   campaign against him, fueled by Goll’s attacks, fosters the old story of the Jewish charlatan, in which the 'master plagiarist,' Celan, steals another poet’s work.”  
Photo Credit: Klaus Demus; 1953
Source: The Forward
A January 2010 article, by Benjamin Ivrey, in The Jewish Daily Forward on Paul Celan, the poet, weaves a story of hatred and intrigue, all leading to his death. This is the same Celan, who survived the Second World War, only to throw himself into the Seine River in Paris on April 20, 1970. One always wonders why he did this singular act of defiance of life itself.

In "Paul Celan's Letters," Ivrey, gives some background on Celan and some of the causes that might have led him to take his own life, which suggests that he had help in making this final decision.
Biographers have a vested interest in hyping their subjects, but when Paul Celan’s biographer, John Felstiner, calls the latter “Europe’s most compelling postwar poet,” surely few can argue. Like most books on the Romanian Celan, Festiner’s “Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew” (Yale University Press, 2001) underlines how his wartime experience in a forced-labor camp (while his parents perished in an internment camp) molded his stunningly inventive use of the German language: his mother tongue and a murderer’s tongue.

Celan, born Paul Antschel in Cernăuţi, Bukovina (now part of Ukraine), is usually written about in the context of the Shoah — as a poet survivor — but a new publication suggests that his most definitive life torments may have occurred after the war was over. Suhrkamp Verlag Germany has just published “Paul Celan, Klaus Demus, Nani Demus: Briefwechsel,” a fascinating new volume of previously unavailable correspondence between Celan and two Austrian friends, Klaus and Nani Demus.
The letters it contains show how simply trying to exist by writing and translating poetry in postwar Europe eventually drove Celan to suicide in Paris. The moving letters it contains recount how a great Jewish poet was egged on to self-destruction in the name of two mediocre poets who happened to be Jewish. Claire Goll, born Clara Aischmann, widow of the mediocre Surrealist poet Yvan Goll (born Isaac Lange), launched these machinations. The Golls spent the war years in safety in America and returned to postwar Europe, after which Yvan Goll died prematurely of leukemia. Celan had translated some of Goll’s poetry into German, as he had translated dozens of other English- and French-language authors, but as a 2000 study from Suhrkamp, “The Goll Affair: Documents Surrounding an ‘Infamy’ (“Die Goll-Affäre — Dokumente zu einer ‘Infamie’”), sadly details, Claire Goll devoted herself to relentlessly defaming Celan as a plagiarist of her husband’s work, quite literally driving the great poet to madness and suicide.
This scenario, although horrifying, sounds very plausible; jealously coupled with a heightened sense of self importance, can make individuals behave badly, to the point of cruel and callous acts. That this was inflicted on a sensitive man who survived the barbarities of the war only to have further barbarities inflicted on him by a fellow Jew says much about human nature, and its incongruities. It has been said that in tribal communities, the strong "eat the weak," a figurative expression that says much. Celan's poetry is worth reading, if only to explore this subject further.
 
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You can read the rest of the article at [TheForward].

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