LYRIC COMPANION Celan “After renouncing light”


AFTER RENOUNCING LIGHT: / bright from the messenger’s passage, / the resounding day. // The bloomhappy message, / shriller and shriller, / finds its way to the bleeding ear.

translated by Susan H. Gillespie, CORONA: selected poems of Paul Celan. Station Hill, 2013

FRAME OF REFERENCE How seriously do we take someone like the puckish Lacan when he provokes us with: “The non-duped err”? We believe ourselves relieved of the fantasy of “the Big Other,” but we fantasize in relief. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 385.

Celan is a trustworthy companion in our nihilistic times. Nihilistic? Yes, our tyrant has announced ballots don’t matter. The USA is shipwrecked.

So I opened CORONA this morning, the old tradition of Dante’s Virgil. I was not disappointed.

Celan thought in passage, in between: not only that. He thought metaxically, the between as porosity between mortal and immortal being. His poems, however “minimal,” are maximal: they flow toward the finite other which is other to thought. If you will, toward luminous silence, not unlike the poems of his friend Bonnefoy.


The poem is an uncouth riot of b’s and h’s, densities of sound to punish the puffy ear.

The lyric narrative moves this poem with astonishing precision, and yet the movements are muscular, embodied, sensuous. It gives the situation in neon. The second line establishes the between of the poem with swift clarity.

After the section break, an abyss yawns: the passage, the porosity, incorporates first the equivocities of tone (too subtle and finessed to be burden with ‘irony’) then the dialectic of degree. It gets shriller and shriller.

Our Tyrant: the ballots don’t matter. Eros Tyrannos. See Desmond on the Big Other in THE FRAME OF REFERENCE.

The ear bleeds. The flesh resists. The poem reaches into the silence of the finite other, beyond its dialectics. Its fleshly finitude, its pain, has become the voice of truth other to nihilism.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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