Tortured Exchange: Celan and Bachmann


Pensum links to a great article about Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann.  Here’s the gist:

The electric and torturous correspondence between Germany’s legendary poets, Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, has now been released in book form for the first time. Ina Hartwig on what was probably the most complicated love story in post-war Germany.

Here’s an excerpt:

The legendary correspondence between Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan which was originally intended to be kept under wraps until 2023, has been released by their heirs and edited by Suhrkamp Verlag with appropriate thoroughness. And here they are – almost 200 documents, letters, dedications, telegrams, postcards which open the door onto a huge, difficult relationship between two individuals, who were nothing less than hurled into each others arms by affinity, poetic calling, erotic attraction and mourning for events of the past. The documents date from the period before fame towered over the two poets in a way that seemed more destructive than protective. Indeed the need for protection and the feeling of woundedness thread through their letters like a leitmotif.

“Glorious news” the 21-year old Ingeborg Bachmann writes in a letter to her parents, the “surrealist poet” Paul Celan has fallen in love with her. It is May 1948, Vienna. The 27-year-old Celan, whose parents, Leo and Friederike Antschel, died in a German concentration camp in Ukraine, had fled just a few months earlier from Bucharest, via Budapest, to Vienna. Bachmann, the daughter of a teacher and a former member of the Nazi party, is writing her PhD on Heidegger. Celan, of all people, will write in a letter to Bachmann several years later, that Heideggers choking on his own mistakes is more agreeable to him than the solid Federal German conscience of someone like Heinrich Böll.

The correspondence opens with Celan’s poem “In Egypt”, which he sends to his beloved, with the dedication “to one who is painfully precise”, on her 22nd birthday. It contains a motif, so tantalising and uncomfortable, that it foreshadows the conflicts to come: “Adorn the stranger beside you most beautifully./ Adorn her with the pain for Ruth, for Mirjam and Noemie”. This motif of “adorning pain” – the pain of the Jewesses adorns the Gentile – is close to the bone, and yet it constitutes something akin to the constitution of the love between the Austrian philosophy student, who stands before a precipitous career as a poet, and the stateless Jew from Czernowitz in Galicia, whose most famous poem “Deathfugue” has already attracted attention in literary circles.

Read the rest here

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