The poet and thinker are individually orchids

Totnauberg. The story of Paul Celan, Martin Heidegger and your impossible endeavor
Forfatter: Hans-Peter Kunisch
Forlag: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (Tyskland)
CULTURAL HISTORY / Celan wanted Heidegger to apologize for supporting Adolf Hitler. With such thinkers, how can they contribute to a society at par with human potential?


The Swiss journalist and author Hans-Peter Kunisch has written the cultural history book Totnauberg about the meeting between the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the poet Paul Celan. This took place at the philosopher's cottage in Todtnauberg in the Black Forest mountain area in southern Germany in the summer of 1967.

There are already several professional books and a number of articles about this meeting, but the special thing about Kunisch is that he chooses a literary and journalistic angle, and among other things allows himself to depict what the two could have talked about in the car ride up to the cabin from Freiburg. The day before, Celan had read poems to over a thousand audience in the large university auditorium in Freiburg, where Heidegger was the principal.

It sometimes gets pretty funny. The portrayal of the two very inconvenient and silent heads of spirit crowded into the backseat of a "spice cheese green" Volkswagen bubble that crept up to the steep turns up to the cabin. Celan, on the last stretch of the foot, walks towards the hut, making a detour into the forest to look at flowers – while a slightly angry Heidegger has to wait. It's a costly read. Was it really a meeting of this meeting? Did they talk about what they were talking about? Kunisch thinks no.

The word in the heart

According to Kunisch, Celan comments on the unresolved meeting in his note in the cabin book: "with the hope of a future word in the heart". And in the poem Todtnauberg, written in Frankfurt two days later. We bring here Øyvind Berg's rendition: "the one in the book / written line about / a hope, today, / about a thinker's / coming / words / in the heart / turf, uneven, / orchis and orchis, single". The poet and thinker are orchids that stand on uneven peat ropes separately, without finding the next word in their hearts.

Celan lost his sense of communism but retained his anarchist inclinations.

What heart? Which word? A common interpretation, which Kunisch also follows, is that Celan wanted Heidegger to apologize for supporting Adolf Hitler and the "National Socialist Movement" – an expression Heidegger used to use in the thirties. This is undoubtedly an aspect of this story.

Celan was a Jew, born in 1920 in the city of Tschernowitz in the Bukovina region of present-day Romania, and had to perform forced labor in the Romanian city of Tabaresti during World War II, while both parents were killed in the Mikhailovka concentration camp in Ukraine.

Heidegger, for his part, was an enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler and his movement in 1933, and was elected president of the University of Freiburg in May of the same year, after the Jewish and left-wing radicals had been ousted. And although enthusiasm for Hitler cooled rather quickly, Heidegger spoke so late in 1935 of "the movement's intrinsic greatness and truth." Perhaps he never stopped dreaming of what he called "spiritual national socialism."

The boundaries of language

So what should the two have been talking about, in a moral sense? Probably nothing. Heidegger thought he was above moralistic considerations – when he failed, there was talk of "errors" on a metaphysical level.

Because the essentials are always hiding, those who hunt for the essentials will always run the risk of failing, and in fact are often largely wrong. Celan is in a similar landscape. Celan's poems and Heidegger's philosophical texts can be seen as a struggle against the boundaries of language. This fight is bound to fail, but the more important it is. Celan and Heidegger live in what the poet Friedrich Hölderlin in the elegy "Bread and wine" (1803) called miserable times. And why dictate and think in ancient times?

Heidegger's enthusiasm for Hitler had cooled off pretty quickly.

Here I can add that Celan comments on this in her Hölderlin poem Tübingen, January, also here in Øyvind Berg's rendition: "If, / if a man, / if a man came into the world today, with / the patriarchs / beard of light, he could, / if he were to talk about our / time, could / he / only lalle and lalle, / over and over / over again ». The poem also has the text «Pallaksh. Pallaksh. " Palaksha is a word Hölderlin often used during his long period as a psychiatric care patient after he was discharged from the clinic in Tübingen in 1806. He invented the word himself, and it could mean both yes and no. The poets and thinkers are patriarchs, the first among the fathers, who, with a surplus of light, establish society, but in ancient times they can only lurk and lurk.

Anarchist inclinations

The word in the heart is not primarily a moral question, nor an abstract philosophical or artistic question, but is about how we can create a society at par with human potential. It is therefore interesting to read Kunisch's description of how Celan participated in communist-anarchist conspiracy groups in the youth's Tschernowitz, in the years before World War II. Celan recommended Nikolai Bukharin's textbook "The ABC of Communism" to his friends, but he was also enthusiastic about the Jewish anarchist Gustav Landauer, who was killed during the 1919 revolution attempt in Germany. Celan lost the sense of communism following the Soviet invasion of Bukovina in 1940, their anarchist inclinations.

Kunisch's book gives a good insight into two central fates of the last century's spiritual life, if it is then possible to use such an over-read word in our time – focusing on the biographical and artistic-philosophical touch points between them. This is educational cultural history. Often, these are the anecdotes you remember best from such books, and my favorite is the barbecue party with author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, where the story of Celan is the following (my translation):

“On the last day, his tongue suddenly disappeared, like a dark cloud taking off. The day was warm, light, no wind, heavy as lead. We played table tennis for hours, he had a tremendous, bearded vitality, he played my wife, my son and me, and together. Then he drank a bottle of Mirabelle, a strong liquor, for the lamb. His wife and I drank Bourdeaux. He drank another bottle of Mirabelle, occasionally a little Bourdaux, in the pergola in front of the kitchen, summer stars in the sky. He dove into the curved glass, obscure, improvised verse lines. He started dancing, singing Romanian folk songs, communist songs, a wild, healthy, overconfident guy. As I drove him and his wife up to Chaumont, through the nocturnal Jurassic forest, as Orion rose, the morning grew ever stronger and Venus flared up, singing, he howled like an unsteady satire. "

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