Paul Celan’s reception in America has always been connected to his status as the great Holocaust poet, the poet who showed that, Adorno’s caveat notwithstanding, it was possible to write poetry, even great poetry in the German language, after Auschwitz. As “poet, survivor, Jew” (the subtitle of John Felstiner’s groundbreaking study of 1995), Celan became the iconic poet for advanced theory, his elusive lyrics endlessly mined for their post-Holocaust wisdom by Continental philosophers from Hans-Georg Gadamer to Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. The result, ironically, has been to place Celan in a kind of solitary confinement, a private cell in which his every “circumcised word” (Jacques Derrida’s term in his essay “Shibboleth for Paul Celan”) can be examined for its allegorical weight and theological import, even as, Pierre Joris suggests in the superb introduction to his new Selections, its actual poetic forms and choices are taken for granted. “Perhaps the greatest risk for the reading of Celan in our time,” writes Charles Bernstein, “is that we have venerated him, in the process of removing him not only from his own time and place, but also from our own poetic horizon. . . . a crippling exceptionalism has made his work a symbol of his fate rather than an active matrix for an ongoing poetic practice.”
more from the Boston Review here.