Thursday, April 27, 2006

The home stretch

Okay, so now it's all over but the grading, which I was puttering at today as I nursed a hangover from last night's last meeting of my "Poetry & Theory" seminar. Now that was fun: I nattered on for a while trying futilely to tie together some of the ideas in play during the last few weeks of class, then we kicked back to watch the second half of The Ister, all well-lubricated by many bottles of wine, some choice Belgian cherry beer, and Pernod with Perrier. Very decadent. And then off to the local "English" pub, where we bemused various antipodean rugby-playing regulars by talking at great length about Celan and Heidegger.

The course, which I'd been contemplating for some time, didn't quite come off as I'd planned (tho of course they never do). I'd foreseen the whole thing pivoting as it were around the materialist readings I'd programmed towards the middle – Antony Easthope, Adorno, Bernstein – but it turned out that the Celan unit at the end (Celan, Szondi, Gadamer, Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe) captured my own imagination (and evidently the imaginations of some of the seminar members) even more than I'd expected. "Primary" texts: "The Meridian," "Du liegst," "Todtnauberg," and a handful of other Celan poems and talks, read thru the progressive prisms of Szondi's "Eden" essay fragment, the afterword to Gadamer's Who Am I and Who Are You?, bits of Derrida's "Shibboleth," and Lacoue-Labarthe's Poetry as Experience. Key themes: the poem's occasion; the "date" inscribed in the poem; the poem as "dialogue," "message in a bottle"; the status of extratextual reference (in a poetry PC himself always insisted was "ganz und gar nicht hermetisch" – yeah, right).

As if we didn't have enough balls in play over the past few weeks, midway thru the semester I got a brand new book which threatened to play the "archival research trumps speculative theory" card: James K. Lyon's Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951-1970 (Johns Hopkins UP, 2006).* I'm looking forward to the reviews and responses to this one, which goes a really long way towards undermining a reading of the poem "Todtnauberg" as a record of Celan's bitter disappointment with his 1967 meeting with Heidegger at the philosopher's Black Forest cabin at Todtnauberg. It's a record of the meeting, all right, but Lyon shows – in a manner which looks pretty damned scrupulous – that when the poem was written, six days after that meeting, Celan by all reports was on a Heidegger high: he wasn't disappointed at all by what MH had told him about his (MH's) involvement with the Nazis, nor was he bitter about MH's silence concerning the Holocaust; on the contrary, he appeared to be well pleased with what he'd gotten out of his face-time with Heidegger.

All this, of course, contra the received reading of "Todtnauberg" (cf. Lacoue-Labarthe, and Pierre Joris in various places, & lots of other people). It all appears to be a matter of various readers reading Celan's disappointment and bitterness – oh yes, he changed his mind about Heidegger, tho he never stopped reading him, and even met him a couple more times before his death – back into a poem which was written before that reaction set in, and which – on its face – seems to bear few marks of anything other than a dispassionate note-jotting about a serious and much-anticipated meeting.

But I'm convinced, even tho one might have to scrap a reading of "Todtnauberg" that attributes bitterness and disappointment to its original occasion – to find that "date" inscribed in that particular manner – that there's still a good deal of truth in Lacoue-Labarthe's assessment of the poem as "an extenuated poem, or, to put it better, a disappointed one. It is the poem of a disappointment; as such, it is, and it says, the disappointment of poetry." Somewhere percolating in the depths of my mind, and sparking among these various texts, is the material for a proleptic theory of poetry, in which the poem rises up to meet the conditions for its future reception. But it'll have to wait until I get thru all these papers.

*This is not a book I'd recommend either for its stylistic flourishes – none, on the contrary a kind of dogged, repetitive presentation of facts and documents – nor for its theoretical sophistication; but it is an example of the sort of strenuous (almost "Germanic"?) archival scholarship that's perhaps a bit too rare today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"..the poem rises up" like a Vampire On A Hinge with a plank up its arse. out of a box.