The Rhetoric of Originality: Paul Celan and the Disentanglement of Illness and Creativity

by Derek Hillard
The Rhetoric of Originality: Paul Celan and the Disentanglement of Illness and Creativity
Derek Hillard
The German Quarterly
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Kansas State University

The Rhetoric of Originality: Paul Celan and the Disentanglement of Illness and Creativity

The mythical link between creativity and illness is like a cat with multiple lives: in the lathcentury, as some German writers first codified it in a modern framework others at- tacked it. Yet even ideological struggles against this link have often had the effect of rejuvenating its mythical force. Both the writings of genius and madness have tradi- tionally appeared as articulations of a basi- cally original and irreproducible nature. In this sense, the concept of origin is key to the cult of the irrational genius. Indeed, origin and originality power not only the discrete discourses of madness and writing, irratio- nality and creativity, but also their very cou- pling. Art, it seems, relies on the irrational aura that origins lend it. Yet what happens if aesthetic production does not root itself in the determined unreason of creative origins, but in imitation, semblance, and repetition?

In its 18th-century form, the link between madness and creativity responds to French Enlightenment arguments that classical, ra- tionally comprehensible models are the true originals that must be emulated. In the logic of rhetoric, origins serve to legitimize the po- sitions that speakers take. Western Europe had long justified particular, historically de- termined forms of politics, society, and art by elevating them to superhistorical models with privileged origins. Monarchs ruled be- cause they descended from heroic precur- sors; society took a hierarchical organization because it traced itself back to divine pat- terns; aesthetic norms prevailed because they derived from classical models. Yet as lath-century writers like Herder noticed, the use of origins for legitimacy becomes absurd when a plurality of aesthetic, social, and po- litical phenomena exists, each with its own origin.'

This plurality of origins caused writers to confront extensive implications that ulti- mately generated the figure of the irrational genius as an explanation for origins. Yet, the most significant factor in this shift is some- thing very different from a plurality of ori- gins: at stake was the very eventof originality itself. Within their proper discursive fields, aesthetic and sociopolitical models now had to posit their own origins. Poetic and poeto- logical texts took on the role of positing ori- gins. Herder, comparing the original, au- thentic poet with divinity, makes this clear. For him, the artist who eavesdrops (belauschen)on nature and produces from it art is "der eigentliche Mensch, und da er selten erscheint, ein Gott unter den Menschen. Er spricht und tausende lallen ihm na~h."~

Herder contends that the genius, with his ini- tially incomprehensible works, explains how culture generates products that cannot be deduced from models.

A detailed consideration of the way this curious historical shift came about would be an interesting undertaking but would ex- ceed the scope of this study. What interests me here is the way the connection of genius, madness, and origin is again at stake in the wake of 20th-century totalitarian politics. I locate the reexamination of this connection in two poems by Paul Celan-"Tiibingen, Jkner" (1961) and "Ich trink Wein" (1969). These poems invite and address the question of what happens when aesthetic production is not rooted in the unreason of creative ori-

The German Quarter1.v 75.4 (Fall 2002) 394


gins, but rather in imitation, semblance, and repetition?

My discussion places these poems in the context of the discursive history of madness and genius, and investigates Celan's critique of this culturally constructed link. Particular attentionwill be paid to the poetic technique of repetition and semblance, and to Celan's recitation of Holderlin. These poems seek to undermine the notion of prophecy and ori- gins at the center of the genius ideology. In them, Celan returns to the coupling of illness with writing not only to disentangle them but also to redeem madness by removing it from apsychological discourse. Thus, for Ce- lan, writing provides neither access to origins nor one-to-one correspondences to external, non-linguistic things, rather it produces illu- sions and words that willbe repeated and al- tered. In his poetry, this repetitive nature of writing is figured as a kind of Wahn. The dis- entanglement of madness and poetry, the cri- tique of original geniality, and the reinter- pretation of madness itself emerge as politi- cally and ethically motivated.

The history of the genius has been nar- rated.3 However, readers have overlooked the way the connection between the discur- sive field of madness and the concept of origi- nality culminates in the 18th-century figure of the genius. Johann Georg Hamann was the frst to assert fiercely the link between madness and the genius in Germany's lath-century intellectual scene.4 Arguing that prophets, notable writers, and poets bore "die Wirkungeines Genies" (104), he claimed that a divinely inspired form of prophetic enthu- siasm could manifest itself as madness and that these poets and prophets were de- nounced because they were seen as being mentally ill. Hamann's views reveal the dual value ofmadness as both affliction and badge of distinction: depending on the observer's position, the same phenomena count as madness in terms of either an enthusiastic and prophetic higher truth or a purely nega- tive, abnormal condition.

This connection between creativity and divinely fated, poetic madness continues in various forms well into the 20th century. Pre- Romantic and Romantic culture was enam- ored with the myth of the genius's madness as a form of divine intervention. This dis- course bestowed upon the creative figure the quality of madness whereby he derived his singularity. Madness was, on the one hand, an enthusiasm, or on the other hand, divine retribution for having dared to transgress human limitations. Either way, the mad po- et's link to god is the channel for the world's enchantment with a divine presence.

To be sure, late 18*-century culture had witnessed the separation of religion and art, the differentiation into distinct social spheres described by Max Weber. Hamann was perhaps the last key player in the intel- lectual scene who held onto the notion of direct, divine inspiration. Yet, in compensating for the gap left by this move away from ex- plicitly divine connections, writers turned to vague claims of divinely natural powers as a form of genial inspiration. Holderlin's first biographer, Wilhelm Waiblinger, codified a view of Holderlin that his poetry would in- vite: "Einer der wahnsinnig wird aus Gottes- trunkenheit, aus Liebe und aus Streben nach GZittlichem."s

Michel Foucault provides ample evidence that society long viewed the mentally ill as flawed, antisocial fig~res.~

Add to this the 18th-century notion that the genius is "autis- tic," and one begins to see the barely con- cealed similarity between genius and mad- man. Both are seemingly self-absorbed, act independently, and define their reality with- out reference to exterior authorities. Auton- omous, they appear to speak to and address either themselves or no one. This autonomy, however, reveals a paradox and a price to pay. The creative individual can only posit itself by liberating itself from societal constraints, prevailing ideologies, and frustrating aes- thetic norms. Yet madness describes the genius's fate; for the very act by which he as- serts himself also makes him ill. In works by Goethe (Tmso), E. T A. Hoffmann (Die Elixiere des Teufels), and Biichner (Lenz), the writer pays for his sensitivity to the con-


tradiction between art and life with his san- ity. As a result of the break between the real and the imaginative the genius drifts from reality into a Wahnwelt that discursively com- pensates as salvation for an absent, blessed state.

That madness occupies a shared ground with originality is at first not evident: both the products of genius and madness may seemto be fancy; they neither ground them- selves on a universally accessible logic nor define themselves based on previous models. Aform of originality, though standing in con- tradistinction to the form proper to poetry, madness is a seemingly empty and perverted form. This is because the essential function of the genius in his modern incarnation lo- cates itself in the concept of originality, what Kant in the Kritik der Urteilskraft calls the genius's "erste Eigen~chaft."~ The genius defines and makes possible a precious, di- vinely natural resource, renewable only through him who canaccess the source. Kant acknowledges the amity between madness and geniality and that both are joined by the principle of originality. Yet the fact that other workswillfollow and model themselves after a genial predecessor- through this repeti- tion actually producing the original as origi- nal-would distinguish poetry (genius) from madness. In other words, the poet wouldpro- duce works that will later provide the rules by which future works of artcan be created and judged. The product of madness, on the other hand, is a freak occurrence, a negative originality that never becomes a rule.

Science provides ISth-century culture with the dominant episteme and metalan- guage for explaining itself. Examining the role of scientific explanations for the world, Weber argued that Western society is the so- ciety of "Entzauberung." Rational, intellec- tual explanations for both nature and society visibly replace the meanings of the world that rest primarily on magical, stereotypical interpretations. For Weber, this intellectual- ism is the claim that all natural and cultural phenomena canbe clarified, that one could prove that no irrational powers were at work, "dd man vielrnehr alle Ding-im Prinzip -durch Berechnen beherrschen kijnne."8 It canbe no surprise then that the logic of sci- ence comes to define the link between cre- ativity and madness; science promises the end of the divine ground for this link. Yet in a peculiar twist, the promise is not kept; for the very scientific language that assists in separating religion from the aesthetic rather than presiding over the dissolution of the discursive field of madness and creativity altogether-reintroduces into this field the atmosphere of prophecy and myth. It accom- plishes this through scientific rhetoric of pathological decline.

Goethe's Tasso and Schopenhauer's ge- nius, wedded to the search for the ideal, al- ready contain the seeds for the mid lgth-cen- tury reinterpretation of creativity in terms of decline. For many lgth- and 20th-century writers, this separation from life's vitality, revealed the creative personality's essential intellectual decadence. Cesare Lombroso first popularized the theory of the decadent genius in his Genio e follia (1864). Later, Max Nordau, in his monograph, Entartung (18921, codified the notion ofentartete Kunst, pressing the genius into the turn-of-the- century grand narrative of irredeemable cul- tural decline. The National Socialists cou- pled what they termed "entartete Kunst," the product of psychologically degenerate humans, with the Jews, who functioned in fascist ideology as the modern, culturally and mentally ill source of an ethnically debased artistic production. This claim ran concur- rent with assertions by many leading scien- tists from Jean Martin Charcot to Emil Kraepelin and Richard von Krafft-Ebing that Jews, due to generations of inbreeding, revealed a much stronger tendency toward mental illness than other racial groups.

Celan was well informed about the asso- ciation that writers made between psycho- logical decline and poetry. In 1946, the year before Celan's first German poems appeared in print, Alfred Margul-Sperber-Celan's later key literary supporter and the most in- fluential of the pre-WW I1 writers of Ger-


man-speaking Romania-published, in a Czernowitz German-language literary jour- nal, a follow-up article to a scandal that had broken out some years earlier. Celan's birth- place, Czernowitz, had at one time become the center of attention in the debate that powered the discursive link between insan- ity and the aesthetic. Sperber and a physi- cian posted at an insane asylum published a poem in a newspaper purportedly written by a mental patient. The article sparked an impassioned response by Karl Krau~.~

For some, the madness of writers was the sign of creativity in decline. For Kraus, however, "Irrsinn" preserved-through its biological association with the nervous system and in- ner compulsions thought to cause insanity- the spontaneity that art in an age of intellec- tuals had all but lost (221-22).

Celan's interest in the problem of reason and unreason had old roots. It is evident in his first published poems of 1947. In an early poem, "Die letzte Fahne," "Wahn" is thevery appearance of illusion, and the dilemma con- stituent to appearances-that one cannot be sure whether they are real or delusionary. 1°By the early 1960s, after establishing him- self in Paris, Celan had encountered new dis- courses that discussed madness as a problem not only of psychology and philosophy indi- vidualls: but also in terms of their agonistic relationship (Maurice Blanchot, Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, and from the German- speaking world, Ludwig Binswanger). Not only did the question of Wahnplay a role in Celan's translations of the poets whose work interested him-Mandelstam, Jessenin, Ner- val, and Artaud-but also in his encounters with the fragile figure of Lenz in the Biichner speech and "Gesprach im Gebirg."

My position is that Celan, in reexamining the topos of the mad poet in "Tiibingen, JSinner" and "Ich trink Wein," critiques the link between illness and writingicreativity and disentangles this connection. For Celan, the correlation of madness to writing is a cultural construction that, according to the logic of this discursive link, enchants writing with a divine aura of prophetic force, or in- versely, turns writing into a mechanical product of uncontrollable biological urges. To disentangle madness from writing, Celan does not go directly to the late lgth-century image of the decadent artist that biological sciences explained. Rather by returning both to the image of Holderlin as the quintes-

sential mad poet and to the 18th-century connection of a divine, poetic enthusiasm, Celan skirts a scientific explication and reinter- prets madness as precisely the opposite of originality: madness is language's constitu- ent feature of imitation. For Celan, poets cannot create ex nihilo. They work with the history that marks language and a language marked by historicity. Instead of an Adamic writing, which corresponds word to thing, for Celan words can only be reinscriptions of other words. This means that a curious wealth of signification and communication is in force. For as Celan asserts in his "Merid- ian"-speech, one poem, through quoting an- other text, cannot reproduce the fill situa- tion of that previous text. Instead, by means of this rewriting, it participates in the pro- duction of yet another situation and the era- sure of a previous one. According to Celan's two Holderlin poems-their complex inter- relationship of theme and form-writing is always already set free from origins; for the very fact that words can be written means that they are repeatable and not bound to a determined and determining origin. Finds: for these two poems, madness defines the condition of signification in modernity. It is language's proliferation and the incommen- surability of language games.

Tiibingen, Jiinner

Zur Blindheit iiber-

redete Augen.

Ihre -"ein

Riitsel ist Rein-

entsprungenes" -, ihre

Erinnerung an

schwimmende Holderlintiirme, mowen-


Besuche ertrunkener Schreiner bei

diesen tauchenden Worten:


he ein Mensch,

khe ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit

dem Lichtbart der

Patriarchen: er diirfte,

sprach er von dieser

Zeit, er


nur lallen und lallen,

immer-, immer-


("Pallaksch. Pallaksch," GW I, 226)

The title is the poem's opening salvo against an ideology of origins and an implicit theory of language anchoring readability in original contexts that seemingly saturate meaning. It alone evokes the myth of Ho1- derlin and its successive regenerations (from early visitors such as Brentano to the writ- ings of George and Heidegger). The myth of the blinded, mad genius had begun; it pre- vailed until Celan's "Tiibingen, Jhner" and Adorno's "Parataxisn-speech for the Ho1- derlin-Gesellschaft in Berlin the same year (1961).11 Readers maintain that by placing "Tiibingen" and '3hner" together, the poem either evokes a past moment that is no lon- ger accessible to cognition, or that it com- bines this particular city with a multiplicity of other places and times.12Yet the poem does not combine the time and place of Holderlin with a limited set of others, but uproots this myth. Janner takes on specific roles in Ce- lan's poetry in light of his Buchner-speech in which the 20. Janner becomes a cipher for the law of the date itself, memory, madness, totalitarian politics, and biography.l3 The ti- tle ("Tiibingen, Jhner") recites the month with its regional orthography. Yet because it stands alone without a specific date beyond the month, it asserts an independence from the Janner and the meanings with which Celan inscribes it in the Buchner-speech. In this poem, Janner neither specifically recites the Wannsee Konferenz's date of January 20, 194-Celan's speech "Der Meridian" does -nor evokes Biichner's Lenz, from which Celan drew the date (even though the po- em's penultimate two lines quote Buchner). Instead, this title and first line of the poem, the reinsrription of Tubingen and Janner as a temporal marker itself, dislodges the time, place, and situation of Holderlin. It remains true to the function of the date in Celan's po- etry: its repetition clashes with a previous situation, day, and text, and marks this past situation's erasure. Memory is a form of wip- ing out.

The way Celan's poem frames numerous, indeterminate, literary recitations and in- tertextual connections undermines a notion of art as the product of original, mad origins. Beyond the title's possible source in Buch- ner's Lenz, it not only recites a passage from Holderlin's poem "Der Rhein," but alsohighlights the passage as a recitation through the quotation marks. The final line furthermore quotes a word Holderlin was said to utter during his insanity, "Pallaksch," which could mean either Ja or Nein. Readers of Holderlin have uncovered other, more tenuous inter- texts.14 Near the poem's end, it quotes from Biichner's play Woyzeck:

immer-, immer-


At the core of the ideology of origins lies a claim of authority, and Celan's quotation of Holderlin critiques this core. The first line of strophe IV from Holderlin's poem, from which Celan quotes, defines the inspired poet's capability: "Ein Rlitsel ist Reinent- sprungenes."l5 In Holderlin's text, the poet, embodied in the river as a figure for con- sciousness, emerges essentially fdy formed and fated ("Wie du anfingst, wirst du blei- ben"). While culture and history ("Zucht" and "Not") are important, an original, vital, natural force ("die Geburt" and "der Licht- strahl"), which produces and guides the poet's consciousness, is the most decisive. As in the first strophe of Holderlin's poem "Der Rhein," where the poetic Ich sits, "[dlen Quell besuchend," the divine aspect of na- ture continuously leads the poet to the source.'6 Celan's recitation exactly contra-

HILLARD:Celan 399

dicts the line's claim of original, divine dona- tion.

Celan's fragmentation of Holderlin's pro- phetic statement disperses what was a sin- gle, gnomic line over three lines of his own poem:

Ihre -"ein 
Fiiitsel ist Rein- 
entsprungenes" -, ihre 

The typographical change from the "Ein" to "ein" chops the beginning of Holderlin's sentence and embeds what was a mystical origin in Holderlin in the body of Celan's poem as context (Zbikowski 194). In Ho1- derlin's "Der Rhein" the stress falls on Rbtsel, in which the statement is general, as if given in an 18~~-centur~

intellectual intuition. Celan's poem, on the other hand, stresses the ein. This reversal of stress ex- plicitly makes Holderlin's passage and Celan's rewriting of it into specific deter- mined claims, erasing an aura of the given. The breaking of the verse marks the par- ticularity of Holderlin's poem, historici- zing it, calling attention to Celan's text as a recitation and replacement of a prior sit- uation.

By framing Holderlin's utterance about and purportedly of singular origins with quotes and dashes, Celan, with his repeated pronouns, "ihre," contradicts in this formal sense the meaning of originality. The recited words, which belong to eyes that have been blinded by too much speaking, define the re- interpretation ofmadness that Celan aims to accomplish:

Zur Blindheit iiber- 
redete Augen. 

Through breaking the word, uber-reden, a different meaning-"too much talknemerges and erases the meaning of "to convince." The eyes blinded by an excess of speech belong to the Holderlinian myth of the mad, prophetic poet. Blindness is not only mythically central to prophecy; it is also a synonym for madness (madness as a form of blindness; this blindness in turn reinforcing the image of the blind seer). Yet here, Celan uses the madness of Hol- derlin's image to critique the notion that a prophetic writing can name and order the world. Celan thus inscribes the topos of too much language into his poem. The mad- ness of a proliferation of words and lan- guages-a tower of Babel-is the result of an excess of speech. This excess of cul- tural, symbolic production is the fall from the purity that suggests fated, given ori- gins and an original language inscribed in Holderlin's poem. In short: that symbolic production, especially speech, is always too much is the madness of modernity. Like- wise, for Walter Benjamin, in his essay "ijber die Sprache uberhaupt und uber die

Sprache des Menschen," it is precisely this excessive nature of speech, the "~berbe- nennung" of things that causes mourning and brings about the speechlessness of melancholy in a post-paradisiacal age.17

In the turn from blindness to insight that occurs in the topos of the blind seer (a surface blindness pointing to a deeper vision), words easily invert to their opposites. Many read- ers of "Tubingen, Jhner," following the myth, ascribe a mystical, visionary capabil- ity to the blindness of these eyes and fall into the trap of this inversion (Geier 20-21). Bo- schenstein uses myth critically in his effort to understand myth, going so far as to press Celan into the Holderlinian image of the blind prophet: "Dieser Blinde [Holderlin] war aber der Sehendste. So ist jetzt auch der, der ihn aus der Ferne sieht. Beide entsagen dem Licht, weil sie das Licht reiner erken- nen."ls This reading established and contin- ues to support interpretations of the poem that view Celan as the modern day poet who, like Holderlin, experiences a linguistic and epistemological crisis and must come to terms with writing poetry "in durftiger Zeit" (Boschenstein103).In this way critics com- fortably reinsert Celan into the myth that his poem effectively undermines.

For Celan, the rewriting of Holderlin's "reinentsprungenes" is madness. This is the determinant moment of "Tubingen, Jh


ner" where the poem goes beyond the effect of decoupling madness from writing. In his replacement of imitation and repetition for originality and inspiration Celan discursive- ly reinterprets madness. It is with an eye to what one contends is a fact of language, its repeatability, that he critiques the ideology of the mad poet. The madness of modernity en- tails an exposure to the repeatability and proliferation of language, the unavoidable excess of symbolic production, which blinds the eyes in "Tiibingen, Jhner." The blind- ness is not a consequence of having drunken from a source of creativity, as in the myth of the genius. Rather, madness is the constitu- ent feature of writing to become dispersed into different languages and functions and be uprooted from fured contexts and origins. The eyes' memory-a form of repetition it- self-does not recall a singular moment. Rather it names the dispersal of "schwim- mende Holderlinturme." This dispersal e- vokes the many myths of Holderlin that are rooted in aprophetic, tragic illness, as well as the readings of these myths, a babble (the "Turm" itself graduating from Holderlin's tower to that of Babel) of memories and in- terpretations.

Because it signifies a proliferation of both perspectives and languages, what Jean-Franqois Lyotard refers to as the concept of "languages games," "which accepts agonis- tics as a founding principle," Wahn, is ethi- cally motivated. lgNazi politics subsumed all languages and social spheres beneath the one metadiscourse of racial destiny. A poetry of Wahn, a tower of Babel, not only describes and practices a writing of agonistic lan- guages as a historical condition, it also has the effect of interrupting constructions of to- tal perspectives.

The words Blindheit andhgen, of course, move the poem's language into a discourse of visual perception. Celan's poetry commonly combines vocabulary that connotes vision, on the one hand, with vocabulary that con- notes speech, reading, or writing, on the other. In "Tubingen, Jhner" this combina- tion of reden and Augen has a specific effect.

This poem attributes a shared penchant to the mechanics of both perception and speech (writing and reading). Both perception and writing are systems driven by semblance and repetition. Writing is the rewriting of other phrases and not a medium for attain- ing access to essential or original phenom- ena. So too is perception an act by which the eye registers "illusions" that provide an im- perfect knowledge about visual phenomena, that is, about other illusions. Thus the qual- ity of semblance inherent to writing and per- ception makes them both wahnhaft, and the knowledge that a world of appearances pro- vides is subject to the uncertainty of illu- sions.

It is perhaps no surprise that a poem crit- icizing origins and prophecy turns to a vo- cabulary of a paradisiacal age. The repetition of the subjunctive wish-in which its con- struction by accumulation is laid bare- stands in contrast to the statement's pro- phetic content:


b e ein Mensch,

b e ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit

dem Lichtbart der


Celan's Mensch, which remains a subjunc- tive, hypothetical figure, would bear the "Lichtbart" of the patriarchs. He would come or be born (zur Welt hornmen)-Ce- lan combines the figures of the newborn and the genius linked by their attributes of intuition and freedom from unnatural norms-with an originary language. The beard of fire functions metonymically for a speech of fire, in which the Mensch would have the inflamed speech of the originary fathers, the patri-archs. This language of an illuminated, law-giving logos (the "Lichtbart" that echoes and twists Hol- derlin's "Lichtstrahl") would preserve con- gruity between thing and word, between divine origin and symbol. The Mensch of such an imagined moment, one prior to both history itself and any struggles against the authority of the father-patri-

HILLARD:Celan 401

archs, contrasts with the actual situation of heute, in which life is not conditioned by origins and essences, but by repetition and semblance.

Celan uses the Mensch to argue that words represent other words and situations that are marked by textual contexts-not objects that are totally external to linguistic dimensions, certainly not origins. Should this Mensch appear today and speak of" this" time-the reference of "dieser" contains both the possibility of the 20thcentury and the time of the patriarchs-it would be per- mitted only to babble like a child: "nur lallen und lallen." The language of the newborn or the genius as newborn is seemingly original; the genius goes to a mythical source to re- ceive a divine language. Celan's poem then reinterprets Herder's concept of "der eigent- liche Mensch," who goes to nature to create divine products of which others can only pro- duce aNachlallen. All speakingin modernity is a Nachlallen. Unlike that of Herder's, the language of Celan's Mensch appears after the fall; it is Geschwbtz, in the sense in which Benjamin uses the term in his essay, "Ther die Sprache uberhaupt und uber die Sprache des Menschen," where a fallen language is one that communicates something other than itself (153).Lallen reflects the prolifer- ation of languages and various linguistic cat- egories of limited historically determined knowledge. This decisive caesura with an imagined paradisiacal past is such that even the prophetic Mensch in "Tiibingen, Jkner" would be exposed to the conditions of signification and speech of modernity From the perspective of an original, gven lan- guage, his speech would, toda.y, be just an- other case of chatter. In other words, he could only communicate in historically condi- tioned, eminently repeatable and incom- mensurable languages (languages without a metalanguage under which they could be subsumed). The repetition of the word- "lallen und lallen"-4escribes the conditions of an actual, historical speech in which a meaning first emerges with repetition and repeatability This break with a mythical and

original language is the moment of moder- nity, or in terms of another poem, "Huhedi- blu," Wahn. The poem's production of sem- blance (rewritten words) defines the modern as opposed to a time of Adamic speech.

Celan constructs the poem's final four lines around the reversal of Holderlin's lan- guage of a purely original poetry as the source, as well as madness in terms of genial enthusiasm:

nur lallen und lallen,

immer-, immer-


("Pallaksch. Pallaksch.")

Against the originality of the genius's law-giving imagination-as in Kant's fa- mous definition of the genius-and the aura of madness in terms of a singular, in- comparable utterance, the poem develops a pattern of repetition and recitation. The last four lines consist almost exclusively of repetitions-the most pervasive rhetori- cal device of Celan's poetry. "Tubingen, Janner" cites what are almost certainly the lines of Buchner's mentally ill figure, Woyzeck, at the moment of his madness, his Stimmwahn, as he hears voices and makes plans to kill his girlfriend.20 The poem's quotation of Woyzeck excludes the psychological scene and connotations of Buchner's drama, transforming this into the madness of repetition. Not only the rhetoric of recitation is at work; the re- peated word has the meaning ("immer-, immer-Izuzu") of the event of repetition, which conflicts with the assertion of pure origins in Holderlin's quoted poem.

The last line-the utterance "Pallaksch" is attributed to Holderlin by his first biogra- pher, Christoph Theodor Schwab-encapsu- lates Celan's technique. That Celan was aware of the legend behind this word is be- yond dispute; for he writes in a letter to his lover, Ilana Schmueli, in 1969:"darunter sol1 Holderlin, in der Zeit seiner Umnachtung, Ja und zugleich Nein verstanden haben."2' On its own, "Pallaksch" is seemingly a pure


chance word (Breithaupt, 650). Appearing once, it would remain an emphatic evocation of Holderlin's divine, mad utterance. It would become an enchanted word whose en- crypted mystery persists in defiance of a ra- tionalized world. Celan repeats precisely this word that is overcoded with contexts of mad- ness. That which happens once, as the adage goes, is an accident, twice a coincidence, and three times apattern. Chance is typically un- derstood in singular terms. Yet this is only partially true; the single occurrence may also possess the appearance of what is divinely given. In this sense, the products of the ge- nius are seen as unpredictable, singular and divinely inspired works. The language of madness, on the other hand, appears as a meaningless, chance event (or its only mean- ing is its singularity). Celan's repetition of Holderlin's Pallaksch works against both the singularity of the genial product and the nonsense of a random utterance having no conventional meaning. It takes on meaning only with its repetition. Only in this way can it become a word, rather than a chance utter- ance. Celan's repetition of the word effec- tively removes Holderlin's poetry from the field of psychological madness. Chance how- ever is not banished completely from the poem. For though Celan repeats the word, by making meaning-which it would not have as a purely chance event-possible through its repetition, the particularity of its mean- ings cannot be completely determined.

Readers working against the nearly crushing tide of biography, sentimental an- ecdote, and positivism in Celan scholarship have forcefully argued that this poem does not convey a biographical moment. Never- theless, "Tubingen, JSinner" brings together what Derrida provisionally refers to as the poem's "exterior" (the date at which Celan wrote the poem) and "interior" (the dates that the poem encodes) dates.22 The title stands in an inexact correlation to the date of the poem's writing and situation. Indeed, Ce- lan wrote the poem, avariant title of which in- cluded "1961," on January 29th, 1961, after returning to Paris from a one-day visit to Tubingen. Celan was in Tiibingen to receive a written position paper from Walter Jens that he believed might help him in his efforts to respond to the charges of plagiarism lev- eled against him by Claire Goll, the widow of the poet Ivan Goll. That Celan begins "Tu- bingen, JSinner" with a marked quotation of Holderlin's "Der Rhein," which thematizes originality, is significant in light of the pur- pose of this visit. The poem undermines the cult of innovation, its theoretical implica- tions and underpinnings in terms of authori- tative, authorial guardianship of meaning. Claire Goll used precisely the seemingly in- nocuous concepts of originality and author- ial propriety to attack Celan's poetic produc- tion by accusing him of plagiarizing her hus- band's works. "Tubingen, Jbner" calls into question the author's proprietary claim to texts. Celan's analysis of origins, however, is not only, not primarily, "personal." Rather, he levels his critique at the politics of origi- nality.

In "Tiibingen, Jbner," Celan's recita- tion of Holderlin's "Der Rhein" in his division of the crucial word (iiber-reden) discred- its authority derived from origins. Celan explicitly uses specific, repeated words ("lal- len," and "Pallaksch") which, if appearing only once, would be "glossolalia" (the incom- prehensible words of mad poetry), with the effect of staging a clash with the poem's rhet- oric of originality. Thus both through the precise use of quotation marks and repeated key words (including the insane utterances of Woyzeck), Celan posits that all writing is wrenched from determined origins: one can- not attribute statements to vague theologi- cal originality. By textually inscribing the name Holderlin and the topos of mad poetry, Celan appropriates the madness of this tra- dition. Yet he takes on the qualities of pro- phetic enthusiasm and psychological abnor- mality only to reinterpret madness as the constituent aspect of language that humans face. Once we have written words, we set them free and will use them in arbitrary con- texts with no necessary relation to real, ex- ternal objects or origins. By pointing to the


poem's figure of a blinding excess of speech, I have claimed that, for Celan, madness is the penchant of language to frustrate human at- tempts to turn it into a reliable instrument. This is because the range of languages pro- duces an incommensurability, and the dis- junct between words and origins makes it impossible to see in language a system of seamless correspondences.

While "Tubingen, Jbner" uses repeti- tion to counter the ideology of originality, Celan's later poem, "Ich trink Wein," re- turns to Holderlin and madness to under- mine messianic notions:

ICH TRINK WEIN aus zwei Gltisern

und zackere an

der Kijnigsztisur

wie Jener

am Pindar.

Gott gibt die Stimmgabel ab

als einer der kleinen


aus der Lostrommel fdlt

unser Deut. (I11108)

"Holderlin, der immer halbverriickt ist, zackert auch am Pindar. "23 The first stro- phe of Celan's poem recites this remark made about the "halbverriickt" poet whose translative work on Pindar amounts to a vain effort. Holderlin was working as the Hofiibliothekar to the Landgraf in Hom- burg when a civil servant, "Hofrat Ger- ning," wrote the comment in a letter. Ce-

lan found the sentence in Michel's Das Leben Holderlin, which he read in 1969. Zackern, zackergen, as Grimnzs notes, is a medieval word toplow. Etymologically and across numerous languages it is key to phi- losophy: acre, ackern, agro, agere, to be an agent, to act. The word is also linked to the word for author. In this sense, Celan's plowingaway is also an "authoring" on the Konigszasur.

Through comparing the work of the Ich with that of the previous moment ("wie Jener" 1, this poem erases Holderlin's pure singularity, his situation's incomparability The poem's Ich takes the words written about Holderlin, where his translations were apparent evidence of madness, and compares them with its own efforts. Celan does this not by quoting from Holderlin's biography, but by organizing the poem structurally around comparison, which the quotation announ- ces. The Zackern of the Ich is a semblance, "wie Jener," of Holderlin's Zuckern. Accord- ing to the author of the deprecating com- ment about Holderlin, zackern supposedly contained within it the proof of madness. Celan leaves behind the word halbverriickt as well as Holderlin's name, retaining the ac- tion that, for many, proved Holderlin's poetic insanity For a moment then the poem is not about madness, but rather about the eradi- cation or omission of a certain kind of mad- ness, that is, a psychological meaning of in- sanity

Yet similar to the case of "Tubingen, Jbner," the Wahn both of Holderlin's action and Celan's poem is present though un- named in the rhetorical figure of repetition. In Holderlin's case the incomprehensible and irreproducible character of his Pindar translation attests to his madness as it was for the impending Holderlin cult to count as his genius. Gerning's remark specifically notes Holderlin's work on Pindar. In the late 18th-century discourse of the inspired, poetic genius and the autonomy of the imaginative subject, Pindar's poetry, the "hohel IOde nach Pindars Art," counted as the genial "Dichtungsgenre schlechthin nach zeitgenos- sischer T%erzeugungn (Schmidt 172). This re- ception of the Greek poet is not incidental, as Celan knew; for it is Pindar who first explic- itly formulates the idea of an innate poetic ability that cannot be learned. Herder identi- fied Pindar as history's archetypal genius, and the young Goethe wrote odes in which a modern poet wrestles with Pindar's tower- ing image. A barely concealed and only ap- parent aspect of Holderlin's late poetry as well as his translations is their originality and incomprehensibility. In contradistinc- tion to originality, the madness of the Ich's Zuckern in "Ich trink Wein" consists in the


repetition and the semblance of the action.

My contention then is that this word wie, for Celan, is the madness of this poem. It is the claim that we may read-and in philosophical terms of appearance-perceive something only asor in comparison with something else. Words do not correspond to given objects in the world; appearances are not grounded in essential entities. Words and appearances are in effect illusions (a meaning of Wahn), though not of hidden, Platonic essences. Rather they are illusions of other illusions. Celan's "Ich trink Wein" is the attempt to represent the very process of representation, by which illusions appear. Words and appearances are only understood in relation to each other and through the dif- ferences that pertain between them. Mad- ness names reading and perception in mo- dernity.

This can be illustrated and summarized by returning to the efforts of the poem's Ich. It encodes its own work at comparison as Wahn, just as the incomparability and in- comprehensibility of Holderlin's translations provoke Gerning's comments about Holder- lin's "halbverriickt" translation. Holderlin's translation seems at first to be the singular and initial moment of "plowing," for which Celan's poem enacts the repetition. Yet this cannot be accurate. The original position of Holderlin is proven untenable. His Zackern is itself a semblance, a translation of Pindar. Holderlin too wrote something, wie Pindar, who, in a chain of translating texts, wrote po- etry, wie-another.

Since the 18th century, originality and un- translatability have been the key qualities and functions of the irrational poet's inspired productions. Unprecedented creation, the ab- sence and disregard for norms and guide- lines, and the autonomy of unbridled subjec- tivity, are present in both the creative genius and madness. Celan however turns this on its head, making madness into repeatability with a difference. Celan's transformation of Wahn erases the function of accounting for a singular origin for events. Madness, as Celan figures it, empties the cult of the genius of its subjective core. The distinction of the genius historically resides in its capacity to tran- scend the distance between idea and appear- ance through the technique of the symbo1.24 But insofar as, or in those moments when, literature represents, it does not claim to transcend the distinction between the word, on the one side, and essence, reality, and im- age on the other, that is, between the nou- mend world of reason and the phenomenal world of understanding and perception. Rather it concedes that it does the opposite: it provides a chain of non-identical sem- blances that preserve their distinctions.

Celan employs the compositional tech- nique of similarity and semblance as corner- stones in his case against the claim that ap- pearances and words provide access to se- cured knowledge.

In the first strophe the Ich is like 'gener"; here god appears "asone of the small just ones."The reduction of god to an appearance of one of many is accomplished in the repeti- tions of G-in this strophe: Gott,gibt, Stimm- gabel, Gerechten, denying and emptying out the presence of god's singularity and incom- parability.

The image of god surrendering the "Stimmgabel" is a signal that language as a system of utterances that tether themselves to origins and objects is at an end. The "Stimmgabel" is, as Grimms notes, the tool "zur Feststellung und Kontrollierung der absoluten Tonhohe, von Stimmen" (~01.10, 3117). The word takes on an etymological meaning of stimmen: "etwas nennen, fest- setzen," "nahmhaft machen, bezeichnen, anordnen u.s.w, urpsriinglich als eigentliche miindliche Aul3erung vorgestellt" (3091). God gives away the "naming-fork," surren- dering the means for giving and speaking the names of things, for ordering, arranging, and identifying the phenomenal world. Lan- guage, now out of the range of the divine, is disenchanted. What remains are words that we can use to respond to other words and sit- uations-a series of copies and semblances, repetitions without given models. As god turns in the "Stimmgabel," the work in-

HILLARD:Celan 405

volved in reading, problematizing, and inter- preting a speaker's situation, now comes to the fore.

Tipping out of the lottery drum in the final lines is not fate (Los), as one might ex- pect, but the coin, the doit, what has little value, almost nothing:

aus der Lostrommel fdlt

unser Deut.

The Deut may evoke Deutung; yet it actu- ally signifies the very potential for mean- ing. The potential is legible in this com- plete word for coin that at the same is the fragmented word for Deutung. According to Celan's poem, we receive no fate, no lot. In the place of fate are coins, a circulating medium that we can use to approximate other coins, other words; but these are words for which there is no given standard or value, due to the end of a normative con- ception of meaning. The Deut that falls from a lottery drum is furthermore the product of chance, a gamble, thus stressing the indeterminacy of moments in which meaning is produced.

Celan's poem mobilizes the trope of hu- manity's separation from a messiah. The "Konigszbur" is specifically the caesura of the king.25 One may link the poem's concern with the king to the two glasses of the first longer line: "ICH TRINK WEIN aus zwei Glbern." The two glasses connote the chain of texts from Pindar to Holderlin to the poem's Ich who drinks from them. Zbikow- ski offers a reading of the two glasses at the beginning of Celan's poem (206). On the Se- der evening of the Passover, during which each person receives a glass, a second glass is placed in front of the host's seat, meant for the prophet Elias-a precursor to the mes- siah. I would briefly extend this reading and argue that in Celan's poem, the Ich drinks from both glasses, emptying out the glass that would otherwise signal amessianic age.

The interruption of the messiah as king interrupts a redemptive narrative. Celan's Zackern on the Konigszasur is a doubled cut- ting away at a central and meaningful inter- ruption in a redemptive presence. A key let- ter from the first three lines further accom- plishes the cutting: the z in zwei, zackere, z&ur links these three words whose mean- ing turns on division. Celan claims that in a world in which the access to the divine or to the ontic reality behind words and images is barred, the power of semblance and compar- ison remains: writing as recitation without originals, illusion, Wahn. As Celan wrote in a letter: "In der Konigszikur, da stehen wir, liegen wir jetzt" (Schmueli 35).The Konigs- zdisur names a fallen world, and the poem's Ich zackert toward marking and finding a place within this interruption. The attempt itself cannot be a pure success, something that Celan seems to have realized in para- phrasingzackern, toplow and to author with "pfuschen," that is, to bungle (33).

More than "Tiibingen, Jhner," "Ich trink Wein" claims that writing and appear- ances are illusions of illusions, appearances of appearances. For classical theories of knowledge, from Plato to Schopenhauer to the neo-Athenian positions of 20th-century thinkers such as Leo Strauss, the world of particular appearances is mere opinion, doxa, delusion, Wahn. This perspective de- fines appearances to be repetitious counter- feits of authoritative origins or transcendent truths to which we still have access. Materi- alist claims, on the other hand, consign per- ception and truth to the realm of material entities only. They deny the reality of imagi- native and playful phenomena by which the aesthetic can propose new realities. Celan's poetry offers us a way to think beyond this impasse. Wahn, inthis sense, dehes the world both inits impoverishment and its wealth. The illusory nature of writing, instead of Msh- ing us with genuine and primitive meanings, provides imperfect opinions and ways to pro- duce unforeseen actual possibilities that cannot be deduced through strict materialism.

To return to the question that I posed at the beginning-what happens if aesthetic production is rooted not in the unreason of a singular creative origin, but is driven by imi- tation, semblance, and repetition? Celan's


answer: apoetry whose task is to mark the il- lusions that it inscribes as illusions, one viewing itself characterized by a pervasive and textually mediated past. Celan's poems cause a discursive shift in the history of cre- ativity and its relation to madness. Turning away from a redemption from reality in an ideal, aesthetically mediated world, Celan's poetry separates pathology from the aes- thetic and brings to an end a mourning of the fractured state of productive, poetic subjec- tivity. For Celan, the writer no longer runs the risk of going mad in the face of a failed at- tempt at transcendence or a reconciliation of conflicts. His poetry does not seek to tran- scend reality or reconcile the vexing oppo- sitions that organize culture: nature and so- ciety, real and ideal, immanence and tran- scendence, representation and experience. Instead, Celan's poetry engenders and ex- plores the reality that he claims to find in

words in new situations.

Celan wants us to read the fact of this his- toricity in all forms of symbolic communica- tion (writingand speaking). The Wahn of po- etry for him is its proliferation of repetitions and comparisons, its constituent illusory and imitative capacity. Celan then writes from a position after the battles against the naive conception of mimesis, representation, and the idealist subject that believes itself able to represent a total Weltbild-the critique against representation that Heidegger and the French Heideggerians incisively and ob- sessively carry out.26

Celan's critique of origins and of the very link between illness and poetry is political and ethical. Both models for culturally con- structing mad geniality-the Holderlinian creator who connects the poles of origin and prophecy, on the one hand, and the artist who grows from the negatively tinged soil of ethnic or biological decline, on the other- nurtured the political terror of the 20th cen- tury in different ways. The first, with its roots in the Herderian notion of the genius1 poet as the mouthpiece ofhis Volk's local, dis- tinctive spirit, was thought to express both a people's origins and its destined future on a historical stage. Such an ideology estab- lished and sustained an image of the specifi- cally German political genius guided by providence, into which Hitler situated him- self. The second was used by proto- and fas- cist ideology to stigmatize Others whom it culturally coded in terms of illness and Jew- ishness. For Celan, this Jewish writer after Nazi Genocide, separating illness from both literature and ethnicity became a central personal and political concern. His poems of repetition and semblance disentangle writing from prophecy and illness. They erase the aura of authenticity attributed to the cult of the irrational genius.

Yet in a peculiar way, in the very process of Celan's critique, something of this Roman- tic notion of the revelatory force of madness remains. The Romantic conflict between Dichtung and Wirklichkeit becomes for Celan the possibility of uncovering reality through the writing of poetry (literature as an explo- ration of what is real). Because, Celan's two poems assert, writing is a form of Wahn- as repetition, reorganization, and linguistic incommensurability-Wahn understood in this sense makes possible a pursuit of reality. In this way, Celan retains an abstract privi- leging of madness and its link to writing. But the 18th- and 19th-century writers who codi- fied the mad poet would scarcely recognize this figuration of Wahn. Celan has hollowed out its psychological and prophetic core and disentangled the weave of illness and cre- ativity.


lSee "Shakespeare," Johann Gottfried Her- der, Schriften zur ~sthetik und Literatur: 1767-1 781, ed. Gunter E. Grimm (Frankfurt a. M.: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1993) 498-


2Herder quoted in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Worterbuch, vol4 (Leipzig:

S. Hirzel, 1922) 3419.

3See Jochen Schmidt, Die Geschichte des Ge- nie-Gedankens in der deutschen Literatur, Phi- losophie und Politik 1750-1945 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1985).


4Johann Georg Hamann, Samtliche Werke, Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, vol 11, ed. Josef Nadler (Wien: Verlag Herder 1950) 105.

5Wilhelm Waiblinger, Friedrich Holderlins Leben, Dichtung und Wahnsinn (Wurmlingen: Schwabische Verlaggesellschaft, 1982) 80.

6Michel Foucault. Madness and Civilization: A History of Madness in the Age of Reason,

trans. Richard Howard (New York: Vintage, 1988).

7Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, Werkausgabe X, ed. Wilhelm Weischedel (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1994) 242.

8Max Weber, Gesamn~elte Aufsatze zur Wis- senschaftslehre, ed. Johannes Winckelmann (Tubingen: Mohr, 1968) 578.

gSee Ernst Wichner and Herbert Wiesner, eds.In der Sprache der Morder (Berlin: Litera- turhaus, 1993) 221-22.

loPaul Celan, Gesammelte Werke, vol I, eds. Beda Alleman, et al. (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhr- kamp, 1983) 23. References appear parentheti- cally with volume and page numbers.

1lTheodor Adorno, Noten zur Literatur (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1994) 447-91.

12Reinhard Zbikowski, "'Schwimmende Hol- derlinturme', Paul Celans Gedicht 'Tubingen, Janner'-diaphan," in "Der gliihende Leer- text," Annaherung an Paul Celans Dichtung,

ed. Christoph Jamme and Otto Poggeler (Mun- chen: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1993) 185-211.

13Recent interpretations include those by Paul Coates, Words After Speech: A Compara- tive Study ofRomanticism and Symbolism (New York: St. Marin's, 19861, Philippe Lacoue-La- barthe, Poetry as Experience, trans. Andrea Tarnowski (Stanford: Stanford UP, 19991, Aris Fioretos, "Nothing, History and Materiality in Celan," Aris Fioretos, Word Traces: Readings of Paul Celan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994) 295-341, and Fritz Breithaupt, "Echo. Zur neueren Celan-Philologie," Modern Lan- guage Notes 110 (1995): 631-57. See also Gerard Raulet, "The Logic of Decomposition; German Poetry of the 1960s,"trans. Sheila Elizabeth Keene and Gail Ellement, New Ger- man Critique 21 (1980): 95.

14The "Turm" may refer to the word "him- melsturmende" in Holderlin's "Das nachste Beste."

15Friedrich Holderlin, Samtliche Werke und Briefe, vol. 11, ed. Jochen Schmidt (Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1994), 329.

16See Manfred Geier, Die Schrift und die Tra- dition. Studien zur Intertextualitat (Miinchen: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1985) 25.

17Walter Benjamin "ner die Sprache iiber- haupt und uber die Sprache des Menschen," Gesammelte Schriften, vol 11: 1,155.

IsBernhard Boschenstein, "'Tubingen, Jan- ner'," ~berPaul Celan, ed. Dietlind Meinecke (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1970) 102.

lgJean-Franqois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minne- apolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984) 16.

20Georg Buchner. Samtliche Werke, Briefe und Dokumente, vol I, ed. Henri Poschmann and Rosemarie Poschmann (Frankfurt a. M.: Klassiker Verlag, 1992)164.

21Ilana Schmueli, "'Denk dir': Paul Celan in Jerusalem," Jiidischer Almanach des Leo Baeck Znstituts (Frankfurt a. M'.: Judischer Verlag, 1992) 33.

22See Jacques Derrida, "Shibboleth: For Paul Celan," trans. Joshua Wilner, Fioretos, Word Traces 17.

23Quoted in Wilhelm Michel, Das Leben Hol- derlins (Frankfurt a.M.: Insel, 1967) 435.

24See Paul de Man, "The Rhetoric of Tempo- rality," Blindness and Insight; Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1983) 187-228.

25See Bernhard Boschenstein, "Holderlin und Celan," Paul Celan, Materialien, ed. Hama- cher, Werner and Menninghaus, Winfried (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1988) 193. Grete Liibbe-Grotthues, "Paul Celans Gedicht 'Ich trink Wein'," Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch 26 (1985): 359-65; and Klaus Manger, "Die Konigszasur," Holderlin-Jahrbuch 23 (1983): 156-65.

26See Martin Heidegger, "Die Zeit des Welt- bildes," (1938) Holzwege (Frankfurt a. M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1994) 75-113.

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