- Durchkreuzte Zeit: Zur ästhetischen Temporalität der späten Gedichte von Nelly Sachs und Paul Celan by Annja Neumann
In this smart book, Neumann means to distinguish her “temporal” analysis of late poems by Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan from the ever-growing body of scholarship on these poets in several ways. Most interesting of these is her refusal to draw heavily on “außertextliche [. . .] Erklärungsmodelle,” such as “jüdische Erinnerungskultur, das Zeitbewusstsein oder den Zeitdiskurs der Moderne” (11). In contrast, though her introduction does situate the [End Page 138] poems in the historical breach of the Shoah, Neumann focuses on time as a “texteigener Moment” (11) whereby the text at the center of her interpretation will be the poem itself. Neumann also means to distinguish herself from scholars who have treated these two poets together by analyzing similarities and differences in their treatment of time. The book falls short on this second promise: The book often seems to be about Sachs or Celan—but not both. However, this does not seriously detract from the project as she does justice to the “dunkle und fragmentarische” character (36) of the poetry and the “Mehrstelligkeit” (86) of any semantic piece of the respective poet’s work.
In wanting to discuss “aesthetic temporality” in these poets’ late work, Neumann sets up the seeming contradiction between the quality of being “zeitoffen” (Celan), also represented by Sachs’s “Wundenmetaphorik” (9) with being “zeitgebunden” (124). Indeed, the “durchkreuzende” movement of time is not only an act of transgressing the boundaries of past, present, and future but of negating a historical concept of linear time (13). As Neumann explains, a poem’s “Prozessualität” stems from its actualized language—that is, “poetische Texte [nehmen] nur schrittweise, Wort für Wort, Zeile für Zeile ihre Sprach-und Zeitgestalt [an] und [folgen] dabei in ihrer Reflexionsbewegung keineswegs nur der Linearität, die der natürlichen Zeit eigen ist” (13). The first third of the book (the first two chapters) culminate in her understanding of “aesthetic temporality.” The main weakness of this part is that it is dense with abstract terms while perhaps is unconsciously repetitive in the way that some dissertations are; a strict editor could have streamlined much of this. Be that as it may, one finishes this section with the impression that one has attended a long lecture on poetry and poetics by an erudite professor. For those less familiar with the intricate workings of poetical processes, these discussions are immensely valuable.
Perhaps it is a commonplace of late-twentieth-century criticism that poetry has become a poetry of thought and process rather than of objects, but in Neumann’s reading of both Sachs’ and Celan’s poetry there are, in fact, objects—or more accurately stated, “Wortdinge” (41)—that occupy the poems, things in which meaning(s) inhere and to which both the word and the reader bring meaning in their own time. She painstakingly reveals the different fields of knowledge that overlap in certain words in order to explicate the layers of meaning in the poems. Most importantly for Neumann, the line breaks open up spaces of potential meaning, where, as she points out, it is not possible to read anything one wants into those spaces but rather, the reader [End Page 139] must be guided by the web-like contexts available in the poems themselves. Neumann’s patient reader will be amply rewarded by her analysis of Sachs’ “nachdem du aufbrachst” (127), upon which she relies for a discussion of Sachs’ poetics. Neumann undertakes an equally close reading of sections of Celan’s Meridian as part of her foundational work on poetics. The first interpretation of a poem for its own sake begins with Sachs’ “Immer auf der schiefen Ebene” (171). Up until her conclusion for this section, Neumann really shines. She is clearly a gifted close reader of poetry who brings words, rhythm, and line breaks into a highly articulate relationship with one another, revealing the dynamic of tension on all semantic levels...