Celan’s Poetry and the Politics of Language

Ryan Ruby at The Virginia Quarterly Review:

Celan’s gray language can be read as a subtle undermining of this principle of separation. Over the course of the four books collected in Memory Rose into Threshold Speech, there is a noticeable shift from a poetics of making-smooth to a poetics, as the color gray suggests, of entanglements, intertwinings, braids, weavings, mixtures. Although he once claimed that he did not believe in “bilingualism in poetry,” his poems have a distinctly international character, which is hardly surprising for a Romanian-born, German-speaking Jew working as a literary translator in Paris. (“International” was negatively connoted in the LTI and along with the adjective “global” it was frequently associated with Jews.) Many of his poems have foreign words as titles, or contain foreign words in them—French mostly, but also Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian—each of which can be read as a “shibboleth” “cry[ing] out” in the “homeland’s alienness” (“Shibboleth”). The borders between identities and languages do not always lie between individual people or individual words; sometimes they lie within them. In his poems, Celan stands inside himself and the German language, “naming on the thresholds / what enters and leaves” (“Together”).

more here.