A Jewish Poet’s Post-Holocaust German

Nov. 24 2020

Born in 1920 in the Romanian city of Czernowitz, the poet Paul Celan (né Antschel) spent most of World War II in that city’s ghetto—where he translated Shakespeare’s sonnets into German—and then in a forced-labor camp. His less fortunate parents were among those Jews sent to the internment camps in Romanian-occupied Ukraine, where they both perished. After the war, he continued to write poetry and also to produce numerous literary translations. The Holocaust remained a major subject of his work, including his best-known poem, “Todesfuge (Death Fugue). Reviewing several recent books on or of Celan’s poetry, Mark Glanville examines the poet’s refusal to abandon German:

For Celan, post-Holocaust German had become a language “gagged with the ashes of burned-out meaning,” yet it was his mother’s tongue, and “to speak like one’s mother, means to dwell, even there where there are no tents.” Czernowitz (now the Ukrainian city Chernivtsi) had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in 1920 had only recently become Romanian. . . . His mother had been a passionate advocate for German language and culture. Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had thrived under the benign rule of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Celan [wrote] “I believe that I remain in the domain of my mother-tongue, thus in the domain of the German language, which I have been speaking forever.” “This is my fate,” he wrote in a letter to the Swiss writer, Max Rychner, “to have to write German poems.”

Celan’s answer was to forge a German that would serve his own poetic purpose: full of archaisms, obscurity, and the neologisms that the German language facilitates with its penchant for portmanteau words, conveyed in a stark, pared-down syntax. Poetry should no longer be a matter of “verklären” (transfiguring). . . . Celan believed that the language of German poetry had to become “more sober, more factual, . . . grayer” and that it is a language “which wants to locate even its ‘musicality’ in such a way that it has nothing in common with the ‘euphony’ which more or less blithely continued to sound alongside the greatest horrors. . . . It does not transfigure or render ‘poetical;’ it names, it posits.”

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Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Holocaust, Jewish literature, Language, Poetry

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship