Friday, 2 March 2007

Paul Celan: His Reply to a Questionnaire from the Flinker Bookstore, Paris, 1958

The questionnaire asked philosophers and writers about their work in progress

You have been kind enough to ask about my present work and projects. But your question comes to an author whose publications to date are three books of poems. It is only as a poet that I can try to answer and keep within your framework.

German poetry is going in a very different direction from French poetry. No matter how alive its traditions, with most sinister events in its memory, most questionable developments around it, it can no longer speak the language which many willing ears seem to expect. Its language has become more sober, more factual. It distrusts ‘beauty.’ It tries to be truthful. If I may search for a visual analogy while keeping in mind the polychrome of apparent actuality: it is a ‘greyer’ language, a language which wants to locate even its ‘musicality’ in such a way that it has nothing in common with the ‘euphony’ which more or less blithely continued to sound alongside the greatest horrors.

This language, notwithstanding its inalienable complexity of expression, is concerned with precision. It does not transfigure or render ‘poetical’; it names, it posits, it tries to measure the area of the given and the possible. True, this is never the working of language itself, language as such, but always of an ‘I’ who speaks from the particular angle of reflection which is his existence and who is concerned with outlines and orientation. Reality is not simply there, it must be searched and won.

But am I still anywhere near your question? Those poets! One ends up wishing that, some day, they might manage to get a solid novel on to paper.

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