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Thoughts about Boars and Paul Celan

Lawrence Norfolk: The Ways of the Boar

6 January 2011
... monsters’. But even in the wild boar’s retreat, his cultural trace remains. ‘Ich habe mich also gefragt, wo ich meinen “Eber” herhaben mag,’ the Romanian-Jewish German-speaking poet PaulCelan wrote in a letter to the classicist Walter Jens in May 1961. ‘I’ve asked myself where I might have got my boar from.’ His query concerned the provenance of an image that had appeared in a ...


Michael Hofmann

23 May 1996
Paul CelanPoet, Survivor, Jew 
by John Felstiner.
Yale, 344 pp., £19.95, June 1995, 0 300 06068 8
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by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris.
Sun & Moon, 261 pp., $21.95, September 1995, 1 55713 218 6
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... PaulCelan was born in 1920 as Paul Antschel, to German-speaking Jewish parents in Czernowitz, the capital of the Bukovina: ‘a posthumously born Kakanier,’ he once said of himself (the city and province of his birth had been ceded ...
5 October 2000
Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul​ Celan) 
by Anne Carson.
Princeton, 147 pp., £18.95, July 1999, 0 691 03677 2
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Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse 
by Anne Carson.
Cape, 149 pp., £10, July 1999, 0 224 05973 4
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... would seem, on the face of it, to have inhabited very different worlds: Simonides of Keos, a Greek composer of lyrics and epitaphs who was active in the fifth century BC, and the Jewish Romanian poet PaulCelan. Simonides was an original. His epitaphs, designed to be cut into stone and punctiliously composed according to the width of each letter, were lapidary in the original sense of the word. ‘An ...


Claude Rawson

1 October 1981
The Sinking of the Titanic 
by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.
Carcanet, 98 pp., £3.95, April 1981, 0 85635 372 8
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Paul CelanPoems 
translated by Michael Hamburger.
Carcanet, 307 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 85635 313 2
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Talk about the Last Poet 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 78 pp., £4.50, July 1981, 0 370 30434 9
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... by aestheticising it: preferable any day, humanly speaking, to the Célinian alternative, but overprotected by irony and allusion, in Enzensberger’s case, from the purported anguish and pain. PaulCelan was also a poet of holocaust (his parents died in an extermination camp, and he eventually killed himself) whose ‘aestheticism’ has been an issue: death is a master from Germany his eyes are ...


John Bayley

2 February 1989
The Lost Voices of World War One: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights 
edited by Tim Cross.
Bloomsbury, 406 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 7475 0276 5
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by Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger.
Anvil, 350 pp., £15.95, January 1989, 0 85646 198 9
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Flights of Passage: Reflections of a World War Two Aviator 
by Samuel Hynes.
Bloomsbury, 270 pp., £13.95, November 1988, 0 7475 0333 8
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... gentle and tormented, enduring a heart-breaking fate which would probably have condemned him, in this new and terrible age, to a silence like Hölderlin’s. Trakl is poetry’s worst war loss: PaulCelan, who killed himself after recording the horrors of the next war, is Trakl’s spiritual successor. Celan was the only poet of any nationality to do such a thing in poetry, and German is ...


John Bayley: In defence of Larkin

22 April 1993
... Geoffrey Hill’s poetry has made something of a speciality in distrusting language in this way; inventing, as it were, a precise and searching idiom of distrust. But the real poet of these horrors, PaulCelan, had no such distrust. His vision of them is wholly individual, wholly his own; so that his words exist not beside the thing they describe but have become it. The language of real poetry can do ...

Excellent Enigmas

Christopher Reid

24 January 1980
Lies and Secrets 
by John Fuller.
Secker, 70 pp., £3.50, October 1980, 0 436 16753 0
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by John Matthias.
Anvil, 125 pp., £3.25, October 1980, 0 85646 035 4
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Growing Up 
by Michael Horovitz.
Allison and Busby, 96 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 85031 232 9
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Report to the Working Party. Asylum. Otiose [preceded by] After 
by Anthony Barnett.
Nothing Doing, 121 pp., £4.80, August 1980, 0 901494 17 8
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... whole of which is printed below: I cannot describe the colour of the flowers I give you except to say that I think they are appropriate. If you like this sort of thing – Rod McKuen, with a slight PaulCelan mordancy – then this is the book for you ...

Dark Sayings

Thomas Jones: Lawrence Norfolk

2 November 2000
In the Shape of a Boar 
by Lawrence Norfolk.
Weidenfeld, 322 pp., £16.99, September 2000, 0 297 64618 4
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... is a web of ‘competing plausibilities’. There is another (it would be foolish to say last) twist, going beyond the text, in the relationship between myth, history and literature. Elements of PaulCelan’s life can be found in Memel’s (reviewers’ attention is drawn to this in the press release, but there’s no explicit mention in the novel): the Jewish Romanian background, the ...

‘Equality exists in Valhalla’

Richard J. Evans: German Histories

4 December 2014
Germany: Memories of a Nation 
by Neil MacGregor.
Allen Lane, 598 pp., £30, November 2014, 978 0 241 00833 1
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Germany: Memories of a Nation 
British Museum, until 25 January 2015Show More
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... died of throat cancer, handing on the throne to his self-willed son Wilhelm II, about whom neither MacGregor nor the exhibition has much to say. The show doesn’t dodge the difficult questions. Both PaulCelan’s Death Fugue and Kiefer’s work feature here as ways of remembering the 12 years of Nazi rule, but there are other, more prosaic objects too. The concentration camps are represented by a ...

At the RA

John-Paul​ Stonard: Anselm Kiefer

6 November 2014
... and above all the inscribed ‘Sulamith’ show that far from being a Nazi Valhalla this is a Holocaust memorial. The ‘ashen-haired’ Sulamith and the ‘golden-haired’ Margarethe are from PaulCelan’s Todesfugue; the loss of Sulamith is a symbol of the Holocaust. Political reunification in 1990 restored the former east, but the real ‘other half’ of German history, the Jewish part ...
18 March 1999
Collected Poems of Vasko Popa 
translated by Anne Pennington.
Anvil, 464 pp., £12.95, January 1998, 0 85646 268 3
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... some of Pennington’s word-choices and admiration for others. Popa’s diction was more varied than Pennington can offer and he was capable of a verbal dazzle that makes him sound at times like Paul Muldoon. Pennington’s language is far more formal. Francis Jones, who expanded and revised the Collected Poems, is aware of the problem. Popa’s ‘words and images are multi-layered’, Jones ...


Iain Sinclair: On the Promenade

17 August 2006
... acquaintances, elective associates of Kötting were invited to respond, to shape a portrait of this unknown (or too well-known) man. A book, In the Wake of a Deadad, would emerge. Even silence – Paul Auster, Dinos Chapman, Richard Wentworth – would be published. ‘No reply’ becomes part of the texture, along with hesitations, prevarications, confessions. Many of the respondents turn Kötting ...


Claude Rawson

17 June 1982
St Kilda’s Parliament 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 87 pp., £3, September 1981, 0 571 11770 8
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Airborn/Hijos del Aire 
by Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson.
Anvil, 29 pp., £1.25, April 1981, 0 85646 072 9
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The Flood 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 55 pp., £3.95, June 1981, 0 19 211944 3
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Looking into the Deep End 
by David Sweetman.
Faber, 47 pp., £3, March 1981, 0 571 11730 9
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by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 28 pp., £5, December 1981, 0 907540 05 8
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... in the poem about the Japanese potter caught at his work in 1945 as a light breaks ‘brighter than the city’s million filaments’, or in the B52s of ‘Love in Asia’. The starkness of PaulCelan, his sense of rock-bottom desolation, are absent, but Looking into the Deep End is a modest success in the painterly exploration of suffering. There is everywhere in the volume a vivid and ...
8 May 1986
Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews 
by Sander Gilman.
Johns Hopkins, 461 pp., £25.10, March 1986, 0 8018 3276 4
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... If they appear in German they are to be labelled as translations.’ After the holocaust, the Jews could no longer really speak German because it was the language of their torturers. The poems of PaulCelan, like the mandarin polemics of Adorno, bear ample witness, as Gilman shows, to the new impossibilities. It is not surprising that the Jew as a mad person, the Jew as someone maddened by the ...


Wendy Steiner

1 June 1989
Real Presences 
by George Steiner.
Faber, 236 pp., £12.99, May 1989, 0 571 14071 8
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... such misguidedly democratic moves ‘the axioms of the transcendent in the arts of understanding and of judgment ... are invested in the overnight.’ After all, who would set Toni Morrison next to PaulCelan? And lest this reference to black women writers of the Eighties appear a random example, we might look at Steiner’s musings on the relation between gender and art. He considers the act of ...

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