Singing, Painting and the Holocaust: Interview with Leon Greenman
August 29, 2005 12:31 PM   Subscribe

you'll then have a grave in the clouds where you won't lie too cramped
"No, no, I never met Paul Celan. This poem is too CLASSIC, too cold, and too difficult to follow. It does nothing to me".
Singing, Painting and the Holocaust: Interview with Leon Greenman, Auschwitz Survivor 98288
posted by matteo (9 comments total)
CP: So you were talking about your Jewish influences....

Paul Auster: Right. The Jewish writer who was most important to me was Edmond Jabes, the French writer. And poetry written by Jews—Paul Celan, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen—all of this is very, very crucial to me, and I think made a big mark on my thinking. And you can certainly see it in The Invention of Solitude. But what people call Jewish fiction in America hasn't done much for me. I'm not a big reader of Saul Bellow or Bernard Malamud, and my work really doesn't share much with theirs at all.
posted by matteo at 12:35 PM on August 29, 2005

I don't like that translation, and the crummy line breaks on that page make it worse.

But I don't understand what point you're trying to make here. One survivor doesn't rate another's poems? Is that it?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2005

which translation you didn't like, Hamburger's or Felstiner's? I linked both.

and I'm not making a point, Greenman is making one.
posted by matteo at 3:42 PM on August 29, 2005

It should be noted that Celan distanced himself from Todesfuge, too, and generally refused to discuss it or read it aloud (even to fellow Jewish-Romanian survivors during his visit to Israel) after it became "the Holocaust poem".
posted by ori at 3:59 PM on August 29, 2005

we dig a grave in the breezes, there one lies unconfined
posted by kuatto at 8:35 PM on August 29, 2005

Hamburger's. But I think Celan is particularly hard anyway.

Greenman's right, if it comes to that, in that references to Margarete etc are meaningless to anyone who hasn't read Faust.

See here.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:52 PM on August 29, 2005

From the Forward article:

At an important level, though, for all the help that Joris may give us, Celan will always elude his American readers. This goes beyond his saturation in the German language and German literature. Celan assumed he would have a relatively large and official audience who shared his veneration of Kultur, who would not doubt the deep social and moral centrality of poetry. No American poet of the midcentury or after could even dream of a set-up like that. Where Celan worried about members of the SS who sentimentalized Goethe, his American contemporaries, shocked and awed by mass media, had to grapple with the increasing irrelevance of poetry. (I suspect that this is why Rothenberg mistakes the tone of "Todesfuge.") Given this reality, the distance between our situation and that of Celan, for whom the stakes of poetry went beyond life and death, might turn out to be insurmountable, even for these very gifted translators.

It's not surprising that someone who grew up in the East End of London doesn't share much with Celan.

PS: I'd try for something like "We dig graves in the sky, where we'll lie unconfined." or even freer "where there's room to lie". Translating Luefte as breezes is perverse. And since "wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lueften" is a deliberately parallel construction with "laesst schaufeln ein Grab in der Erde", translating the second line as Hamburger did is even more perverse. If Greenman only knows Hamburger's translation, no wonder he doesn't like it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:14 PM on August 29, 2005

An interesting post, although I was also a bit thrown by the seeming focus in the FPP on Greenman's take on Celan. But that does raise another point, which is how to handle art that also aspires to be a kind of journalism. Greenman isn't much of an artist, by his own admission, Celan was certainly an artist through and through. They seem to be engaged in the same thing only if the proximate referent is the most important thing about art.
posted by OmieWise at 5:54 AM on August 30, 2005

I've never seen the Felstiner translation before. It's very, very good. Brilliant, even.

ori writes "It should be noted that Celan distanced himself from Todesfuge, too"

This doesn't change the fact that it's his best-known, most "important" poem.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:04 PM on August 30, 2005

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