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Adrian Del Caro PAUL CELAN'S UNCANNY SPEECH On October 22, 1960, Paul Celan was in Darmstadt, West Germany , to accept the prestigious Georg-Bûchner-Preis. Winners of this prize are required by custom to give a speech on some aspect of Georg Büchner's writings, and Celan followed suit with a speech entitled "Der Meridian." The speech itself, as an address given in German in Germany to German listeners, was uncanny, but it was Celan's "uncanny" discourse that had earned him this prize in the first place. In his poetry die uncanny takes on a life of its own. In the Meridian speech, dimensions of the uncanny in Büchner's writings are explored for the purpose of shedding light on the artistic impulse, and on poetry in particular. The poetic of Paul Celan is difficult to define from the aggregate of his poems, and hardly transparent in the Meridian speech, either. But it is the concentration on the uncanny in "Meridian" that makes the effort worthwhile. I will use the Meridian speech, examples from German literature, and examples of Celan's poems to unpack this uncanny. "Meridian," like so many words chosen by Celan, is full. Among the things it can mean are highest point, prime of life, circle from pole to pole, and lines numbered according to degrees of longitude. We speak also of a prime meridian, namely Greenwich, having the property of a center, of a locus from which we determine our bearings. Celan the linguist and etymologist knew and considered all meanings. "Uncanny" as a translation of German das Unheimliche is not quite sufficient, but it is a good starting point. German heim is English home, and unheimlich, unheimisch would be unhomely or unhomey—at least in the etymological spirit. When things are not as they are at home, they are unheimlich. Grimm's dictionary tells us that it wasn't until die end of Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 211-224 212Philosophy and Literature the eighteenth century that an emotive quality was added to this formerly cognitive adjective; it began at diis time to be associated with feelings of terror, dread, and anxiety. The Romantic Ludwig Tieck was among the first German writers to treat supernatural, uncanny themes, and as unheimlich became associated with the supernatural, it began to lose its sense of homeliness. Later on, E. T. A. Hoffmann became a master of die uncanny in his numerous weird tales. English "uncanny," which is still the best translation we have for unheimlich, experienced a similar development away from its origins in Scottish, where canny meant quiet, snug, cozy, and pleasant. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that "supernatural, mysterious, uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar" were properties ascribed to "uncanny" after 1850. Poe's writings are uncanny in this modern sense. Freud devoted an essay to the uncanny in 1919. He made die point diat das Unheimliche is merely das Heimliche that we have repressed. Ifwe romanticize this idea, dien in the beginning all things were heimlich or homey to us, and it is only after consciousness thatwe become alienated from our home in nature, a condition which makes us feel unheimlich. Celan certainly had strong reason to focus on the earliest meaning of unheimlich, since he experienced homelessness in virtually every conceivable sense of the word, but then, so did his people, dieJews; first in their experience of the Diaspora, then in their "final" eradication during the Holocaust. The people without Boden or land became, by 1945, a people no longer of die earth. Freud linked the concept of das Unheimliche to its origin in heimlich. After exhaustively quoting the lexicologists Sanders and Grimm, Freud concluded that only Schelling had added a new dimension to das Unheimliche: "Uncanny would be everything that is supposed to remain a secret, remain concealed, but has emerged."1 This is credible enough, and fits Freud's repression theory. Freud's statement at the conclusion of the first part of his long essay would have appealed to Celan: "Heimlich is a word according to whose meaning an ambivalence develops until finally it corresponds in any uncanny way with its opposite. Unheimlich is somehow a kind ofheimlich...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 211-224
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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