Paul Celan: from 'Microliths,' translated by Pierre Joris

[The following selection (theoretical and critical fragments from between 1967 and 1969) is taken from Paul Celan, Mikrolithen sinds, Steinchen, the collected posthumous prose as edited by Barbara Wiedemann and Bertrand Badiou and published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2005. In that edition the roughly two hundred pages of Celan’s writings (divided into sections of aphorisms, narrative fragments, dialogues, notes, theoretical-critical fragments, unsent letters, and texts concerning the Goll affair) are followed by a seven-hundred-page apparatus of bio-bibliographic commentaries. My complete English translation of the texts with a reduced commentary section, from which the present excerpts are taken, will be published sometime in 2019. (P.J.)]


214. No poem after Auschwitz (Adorno):

What concept of the “poem” is being presented here? The arrogance of the one who dares hypothetically-speculatively to contemplate or poetically describe Auschwitz from the nightingale- or lark-perspective.


215. I don’t, in fact, write for the dead, but for the living — though of course for those who know that the dead too exist


Dichotomy of outside and inside world


Speechlessness and horror are contained in it — in the existence — though they don’t constitute it


No artist

the word Breathturn — in the Meridian — of a speech against artistry and for the human


these verses in no way stop before the splitting of reality into an outer and an inner


writes itself here-ward from its existential mother-ground




  1. The Jewish heritage    Bialik,


2.     Khurben in my poems


3.    The state of Israel in my work


4. 2 poems

the one who learns how to respect the other in his alterity, without giving in to easy equations and identifications

            פאול צלנ


217      Tinkering with Mandelstam, again


218      touch and cut across each other in the poetry


219      E. Fried: and planted the yellow star that others had worn for him — not every Jew is King of Denmark or even just a Danish prince —, now of all times, and FAZt* about the lost German East.

            * [writes-in-the-Frankfurter-Allgemeine-Zeitung]


220     Aragon yesterday to the students: “Je suis un homme qui n’a pas plié / I am a man who didn’t fold.”


D’autres ont plié, ployé … /Others have folded, bent/



221      I am looking at Rembrandt’s self-portrait (the Cologne one), his gaze and his mouth distended by the contingencies, his head and a part of his coat gilded by contingencies, gnawed at by them, thought up by them, his staff splattered by two drops, three drops of that same substance.


45 rue d’Ulm

Paris, 10 May 1968


222     -i- “Threadsuns,” that is where the self-alienation of humans ends … and the self-alienating talk about exactly that self-alienation



223.1   To P.H. Neumann


The casualness with which you break through the — porous! — walls of a given poem, makes me sad.



223.2  -i-

The poem as lived language



223.3  The betrayed truth of my poems


223.4  -i- The fleetingness of what is said in the poem as what constitutes /Konstituens/ its — limiting and unlimiting — meaning.


223.5  -i- sweet empirics (teach)


223.6  -i- The poem — the other, regained, first voice of mankind


223.7  -i- P.H. Neumann’s book:

All in all clean, a few counted uncleanlinesses, the Jost Nolte-quote, for ex. In principle it does not depend on the “core-words,” not on their number, but on the context in which they appear in the single poem, in the single cycle, in the single volume, on the How and What of what is said around them and with them.

Not how often a word appears, but in whose company or, as the case may be, without whose company it arrives


223.8  -i- The gathered strangenesses stand against the daily, useful serviceable rhyme


223.9  Re the Russ. anthology:

For having rendered my poems unrecognizable, I thank you very much


223.10  I do not think that I have betrayed a single one of my poems


223.11                                                 1.22.69

On Lyons’ comparatist (Buber a. Celan):  you underestimate the creative and its paths


223.12 Ungaretti -i-

            clogged with the Today

            smudged with the Today


223.13 -i- the stripped poetry, that now stretches out to the corners


223.14 -i- still in contact with what sings


223.15 -i-

To orient myself between my few words