Poetry, Prayer, and Memory (4)

n 1967, just three years before he committed suicide by jumping into the Seine River in Paris, Paul Celan paid his one and only visit to Martin Heidegger, whose writings had had a major impact on Celan’s thinking and his poetry. Celan went to visit Heidegger in the latter’s ski-hut on the slopes above the little Black Forest town of Todtnauberg-im-Baden, the very place where Heidegger wrote most of Being and Time and many later works. There was a little well near Heidegger’s hut, with a star carved into the crosspiece above the opening. Heidegger also kept a guest-book in the hut for visitors to write a line or two in when they visited.

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Poetry, Prayer, and Memory (1)

At one point in “The Meridian,” his acceptance speech for the 1960 Georg Büchner Prize for literature, poet Paul Celan remarks that “the poem today,” which in his case especially means a day that dawned only after the night of the Holocaust (a day that is still passing by us), “shows, as cannot help but be recognized, a strong tendency toward holding its tongue.” 

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Art After the Holocaust (1)

Art—at least that art that has been purified of all artifice and flashiness, all grandiloquence and gaudiness—can call us back from the sort of forgetting of ourselves that shames us, and into the sort of forgetting of ourselves that honors us. It can call us back from forgetting ourselves negatively and into forgetting ourselves positively—back into forgetting ourselves precisely by honoring our obligations, and paying what we owe.    

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Holocaust Remembrance (4)

In my preceding post, I argued that our remembrance of the Holocaust must remain a carefully articulated one, in which we are careful to honor all he victims of the Holocaust at the same time that we preserve acknowledgment of the disproportionate suffering that the Holocaust inflicted on some segments of the general population--above all, but not exclusively, on those who were classified as Jews. Not to show such care to remember all the victims in their full articulation into disproportionate segments is to “forget ourselves” in the negative sense of a self-forgetfulness that works to our own dishonor.

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