23. Between Hölderlin and Celan*

A thunderbolt

The occasion was the meeting of the Hölderlin Society in Tübingen on May 22, 1986, on the topic “Hölderlin, the View from France.” [1] André du Bouchet, in the notes and reflections associated with the talk he gave on that occasion, referred at the start to another talk on Hölderlin he had given sixteen years earlier, in Celan’s presence, a short time before the latter’s death. It was in Stuttgart in 1970, at a bicentennial commemoration of Hölderlin’s birth. The text of that talk had been published immediately in the review L’Éphémère (du Bouchet 1970). We were all moved when we heard what du Bouchet had to say in the second talk about what had happened at the first one. Celan had made some remarks that, “until that day,” wrote du Bouchet, “he had preferred to keep secret.” A thunderbolt had struck du Bouchet. He would never have expected to hear his friend, whom he so much admired, declare out of the blue: “There is something rotten in Hölderlin’s poetry.”
Du Bouchet conveyed his surprise to us in a striking reappraisal of the matter: “Yes, [something rotten] in [Hölderlin’s] work, which among all others appeals to purity as an absolute.” In the face of this incredible situation, du Bouchet was driven to re-imagine and reconfirm his own testimony: “I repeat, and word for word, the distressing sentence, at the time incomprehensible, yet uttered quite calmly.” Celan dispelled any misunderstanding. Du Bouchet reports the incident in a slightly grandiose fashion, and his writing reflects his horror. He would have preferred not to have had such an experience, provoked by just a few words. He was shattered.
However, Celan was not telling him anything new; it was exactly what he had written in the very poem in which he evoked quite precisely the site of the insane man’s home on the banks of the river Neckar. It was the poem “Tübingen, Jänner” (“Tübingen, January”), which du Bouchet was about to translate without realizing what it was saying, despite its enigmatic but clear and easily decipherable form. [2] The enigma is not the mystery, which it condemns; it is a means for achieving clarity. [3] Du Bouchet was all the less able to grasp the pronouncement because the poem, as he understood it on its face, brought together two widely separated names, Hölderlin and Celan. A little later on, du Bouchet harks back to his confusion and his struggle with the text: “I cannot get the intonation quite right.” Did Celan “at that moment really understand what he was saying?” Du Bouchet’s hesitation notwithstanding, that moment was the perfect time for Celan to make this trenchant declaration. It took the form of a judgment that applied not only to the Swabian poet (treated ironically, for example, in the second stanza of the posthumously published “Ars poetica 62” [Celan 1997:87]: “I taught Hyperion the language that matters to us, professionals of the hymn”), but also to the recent use made of the Germanized work in Hitler’s Reich, which Celan had detected in his youth. [4] For Heidegger, an interpreter of Hölderlin, and for those around him, in France and elsewhere, it was a powerful reference.
I took some of the courses taught by Jean Wahl during the years preceding du Bouchet’s return from America in August 1948, and du Bouchet took the same courses later on. Wahl’s courses were more open and appealing than others, as he did not address himself exclusively to a university audience; there was a lot of discussion of “metaphysical poetry.” Later, there were lectures at the Collège de Philosophie in St. Germain-des-Prés, which were just as popular. Heidegger was very much on the scene, despite the reservations he aroused. The intellectual climate makes one suppose that the setting adopted by the poet was not so much endured as chosen.
Celan loathed this world. Clearly, he had studied it closely when the occasion required, but he did not glorify it; on the contrary. Hölderlin did not figure among the writers with whom he was really associated—the canon is not very broad. Hölderlin was too “hymnic,” too Greek and too Germanic; he was invoked at an inauspicious time, against the times. Du Bouchet had only to recognize Celan’s allusion to the Wannsee conference, where in early 1942 the Nazis decided on the extermination of the Jews, as a reference in the word “January” (“Jänner”) in the poem’s title. Basically, du Bouchet’s account of his astonishment re-opens the whole field in which the truth had already found its means of expression.
Soon after the discovery of Hölderlin’s “Friedensfeier” (“Celebration of Peace”), I translated it at Bernard Böschenstein’s behest; it was published by the Bibliothèque Bodmerienne in Geneva. [5] Du Bouchet sent me the large-format edition of Hölderlin, Poème published by Jean Hugues in 1961 (without engravings). We had just become acquainted: “Thank you, dear Sir, for your translation,” he wrote, “faithful in every respect, and so clear, that it would have dissuaded me from undertaking my own, if I had known about it in time. Yours truly.” It marked the beginning of our reading each other’s work. André was not always very sure of the German. At that time, I had neither the knowledge nor the judgment that has guided me since then.
On September 12, 1964, he wrote to me: “Dear friend, may I turn to you once more? I have been asked to attach to this translation of “Friedensfeier,” which you have gone over so carefully [this had been done in the meantime], the first version of it, which in fact constitutes a different poem: “Versöhnender der du nimmergeglaubt” (“Conciliator, you that no longer believed in”)—I did my best to do it this summer—but I am unable to verify the French translation, and I came up against fragen, wer es gewesen (“ask who it was” [6] ), as you can see. Would you have time to take a look at it?” Hölderlin’s Poèmes published by Mercure de France date from that year (1986).

Contemporary history in the waters of Tübingen

I have published a study of Celan and Hölderlin, in which I analyzed as best I could the Heideggerian approach that generally prevailed in France at that time. [7] Jean Beaufret’s books and the French translation of Beda Allemann’s Hölderlin und Heidegger [8] all exerted a definite influence. I was obliged to point out the preconceptions—for example, those of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe [9] (which he rectified later). The present discussion of du Bouchet’s translation derives from these analyses, but does not depend on them; it has a different slant.
In du Bouchet’s translation, the word “Jänner” (“January”) could be misunderstood and thus fail to orient the reading. We know, however, that du Bouchet was familiar with Celan’s talk, “The Meridian,” published in French at the beginning of the first issue of L’Éphémère in 1966. Near the end of that text, we find a reminder of the journey that the writer Lenz had made in the Vosges mountains in the eighteenth century on the very date mentioned earlier in the speech, January 20. [10] Celan refers to it in “The Meridian” when he recalls his missed meeting with Adorno in the Engadine valley (more mountains), and inscribes it within the frame of his own experience. Du Bouchet translates: “Je m’étais, l’une et l’autre fois, à partir d’un autre ‘20 janvier,’ le mien, sur tel pas transcrit. / Une rencontre m’a mis en présence de … moi-même” (“In both instances, I’d begun writing from a ‘20th of January,’ from my ‘20th of January.’ It was … myself I encountered” [Celan 2001:412]). [11] How did du Bouchet understand the mention of the date, here, and the upsurge of an identity, which was to be that of the poetic subject? The importance of this “origin” had been clear for forty-five years. I could cite, almost at random, a paperback of the poems with commentary by Jean-Michel Maulpoix, containing a section titled “January 20” (Celan 2009:42–44). Still, we have to wonder about du Bouchet’s silence. Did he not perceive the clue, or did he repress it and brush it aside? The political commitment to which the clue attests exclusively and unilaterally was not compatible with his conception of writing and its internal data. Hölderlin, he thought, had the power to blur differences. So he performs an act of assimilation; it alters the smallest detail. With Je m’étais … sur tel pas transcrit, emphasizing the literary rather than the political dimension, one perhaps loses the idea of a (Jewish) affiliation; a great tradition, claimed by the Jewish writer, is eliminated by a linguistic coup.
The meaning inscribed in the words may hide from the light, but it can still be uncovered. Not the poetry but the discourse surrounding it has carried it into another world. The quotation from Hölderlin recovers this transferred meaning: ce qui est pur jaillissement (the “purely originated”) is an enigma, according to du Bouchet’s translation; “pure” is, for Celan, “without stain” and without compromise. The eyes have their memory, which corrects—their own memory (this is repeated). “Hölderlin’s towers” are in the water, given over to a conscious re-reading of the event. The seagulls do not add a merely descriptive element: the word “gull” (mouette) has more to say; it is a signifier.
“Visits of drowning joiners” in stanza 2: in this context, should one not say that they are all “drowned”? All the witnesses are dead, and by the same token their reception has lost its meaning, if we understand the prophetic speech (uttered in stanza 3). The prophecy from beyond the grave is formulated by the camps’ victims. For a “man” (the German word Mensch doubtless has a Yiddish intonation) considering “this time” (heute, “today”), there would no longer be any language at all. A Talmudist, a prisoner of his ancestral customs, was there, in this delirium, the Hölderlin of madness. He would have spoken the truth by shaping the unspeakable.
If we want to translate the opening of “Tübingen, January,” we have to take into account the sense that the word “eye” assumes in Celan’s poetry. It has an idiomatic meaning: it represents an agency that follows and observes the writing, controlling the enigma and the process of re-semanticization. Du Bouchet translates it as pupilles, rather than yeux (“eyes”). Might his own blindness be a factor here? It is here, after all, that the false is obliged to tell the truth, by betraying itself. To recognize this betrayal, it is important to distinguish between ordinary discourse, “talking” (Rede, stanza 1), and poetic language, “speaking” (Sprache, stanza 3). The false subject does not lend itself very well to the principles to which du Bouchet adheres. His translation neutralizes and ignores the verdict that strikes what is called “persuasion,” as when it was imposed in the intense celebration of Hölderlin beginning around 1900. It left in place all the wrong ideas that perpetuated repression.
We hear Celan talking to his friend, the French translator of his poems. Those people in Germany have laid claim to an impenetrable origin, ancient and modern; they have texts they can refer to. But these are talmi (counterfeit), these unequivocally initiatory but spurious compositions. What we must fight against now was already a “fake.” That is how we should read the whole poem, written by Celan in 1961 and included in Die Niemandsrose (The No One’s Rose) in1963. The “drowned joiners” are numerous; a whole crowd of them got together in Hölderlin’s tower. The joiner Zimmer, the host responsible for his poet lodger, had a clear vision of this delirium. It was a madness that spoke the truth. The ancestral tradition, guarantor of humanization, if one needed to claim it in opposition to Hölderlin’s devotees, should not be sought in Greece, nor in Christianity. But the other, Jewish tradition, which “speaks,” no longer exists. It is dead in today’s world, in “this time” (it is not telle époque [“such a time”], as du Bouchet would have it). If we were to make this past speak, it would be merely a babbling, in keeping with the words uttered by the madman.
The poem closes (twice) on a repeated fragment, shreds of language. Du Bouchet comes back to this conclusion and comments on it without considering its history. He cannot manage to find a place in his reflection for the existence of a dead tradition, nor can he accommodate the placement of a madman’s word. He wonders: “the word Pallaksch … is it Hölderlin’s word or Celan’s, when the latter appropriates it in his own poem?” [12] One can see the immense distance Celan has created, though not for du Bouchet in particular. In a historical projection he shows what separates us forever from all the traditional legitimizations, be they Jewish and Talmudic. Now only a critical gaze survives. In desperation he denounces and dismantles repressive systems. Du Bouchet, however, makes this babbling a “word … that has not been translated, a murmured word … it too lies at the origin of the poem (like the word ‘coarse’).” [13] A substratum of language. This word, “out of tune within the Hölderlin poem [he is referring to “Tübingen, Jänner”] is nevertheless a word,” or a “way into the poem.” What lies “outside,” access to the common reality of history, cannot (or: could not) keep its place in the work; thus the translator goes around in circles. Later on, he will return to the poem and to his conception of the way language shifts (“the clear word … becomes temporarily opaque again”).
In the meantime, I recalled (quite fortuitously) that Gilles Jallet had written a paper on Celan’s comment on Hölderlin’s poetry—the comment that du Bouchet had reported to the Hölderlin Society (du Bouchet 1989)—and that Jallet had related Celan’s comment to his own grasp of the poem du Bouchet was translating. [14] Jallet is aware that Celan’s language expresses a radical critique of poetic discourse and its veneration. Hölderlin did not take history into consideration—no more and no less than du Bouchet. Nor could the French poet measure the critical and almost transcendental distance that poetry, when it freed itself, could open up before its deployment.
In Hölderlin’s hymn “Der Rhein” (“The Rhine”), at the beginning of the fourth stanza, the line Ein Räthsel ist Reinentsprungenes (“A mystery are those of pure origin”) refers to the tension created by an origin that is no longer Greek, but linked to the water, [15] to the river if it truly manifests the power of that origin, and to the reality of the song that celebrates it. Jallet recognizes that it is not this meaning, the meaning of the phrase in the hymn, which is expressed in the quotation from the poem, but an interpretation; it retains the presence of the water and extends it to the point of “almost total dissolution” (which he finds in the second stanza of Celan’s poem). However, the context connects the words to Augen (“eyes”), to their transformation into poetry. With enigmatization, they present to language the “freedom” of a readjustment. Memory is consolidated here, in a place where in the end the deadly towers float (still “swimming” [schwimmende], as the eye implies the poetic idiom). Memory is surrounded by seagulls, birds of death. One can hear in the word Möwe (“gull”) an assonance (Löwe, “lion”), and if we think of the French (as Celan often does), we have the word mouette, which can be related to mutism through the apophony muet (“mute”). It is in any case a question of destruction (Jallet himself sees the flotsam); there is no shortage of reference to the killers.
It is not enough to say that the plural (“joiners”) is confused with “Hölderlin’s visitors,” who existed and were known to him and to us (Jallet 2006:189). The reverse is more accurate. The protectors of a longstanding demand in poetry will be the visitors to the disaster; they are all dead (“drowned in poetry”); they rush to hear the message. Celan had already told his friend du Bouchet, without addressing him directly, what he needed to know.
Jallet is right to insist on the demonstrative adjectives, correcting du Bouchet. The visitors, in their funereal domain, are drawn by “these … words” (diesenWorten); in the second stanza, they announce the intractable statement of the third, which concerns “this time” (spräch er von dieser Zeit). But this is not syllabic babble, which would be the only appropriate language. We have to include an intermediary position: if the “just” of the Talmud, perpetuating the tradition of the fathers of the Torah, were concerned with defining what had occurred, their knowledge would be unproductive; they would end up with an iteration that closes up into an unintelligible and incommunicable language. This is what the poet in his madness must have known. We have to conclude that the wisdom of the tzaddiks (righteous men) is obsolete, that a tradition is dead. One can no longer create a poem without knowing that, and without speaking of its loss, as Celan did. It is not only the Greeks and Hölderlin who are mute; one can no longer lay claim to the Jewish tradition either. Celan does not do that; he contradicts and corrupts a poetic tradition to protect himself from corruption.
Henri Meschonnic, with his customary violence, attacked André du Bouchet’s translations in a diatribe published in early January 1972 in Les Cahiers du chemin, which was edited by Pascal Quignard (“On appelle cela traduire Celan”—“They call that translating Celan”). [16] André informed me of his indignation in the autumn of 1971: “My dear Jean, ‘for your archives,’ these thoughtless and insulting pages, which I would hope—for Quignard’s sake—will not be published. I was determined to tell him so, and in these terms … .” Quignard did not listen to him. I recall that I dissociated myself from the polemicist and told him why. I reproached him for not railing against his mentors and colleagues, who were weaker. Now, on a quite different plane, I want to point out the insuperable gap between the two kinds of writing.

Language triumphs over meaning

In the poem “Todtnauberg,” “The Mountain of Death,” [17] which captures the essential features of a visit to Heidegger in his cottage (Hütte) in the Black Forest, Celan focuses in particular on the guest book (it is not “a book” but “the book,” in which everything that matters to the visitor is inscribed); these are lines 6 to 16 of the third stanza:
The line
—whose name did the book
Register before mine?—,
the line inscribed
in that book about
a hope, today,
of a thinking man’s
in the heart [18]
The poet makes a request of the philosopher. He reveals his expectation that the latter account for his Nazi past. The “thinker” is Heidegger. In the interpretation required by the Celanian idiom, “thinking” presupposes memory; it remains bound to history, to the truth of political events.
With relevés (“recorded”), the reader does not immediately understand, as he should, that these are the names already written in the guest book (earlier visitors, dignitaries of the Nazi intelligence community), the book open before the “thinker.” Du Bouchet does not really sustain the reference to the Nazi past; for him, the thinking refers to what the philosopher (not the reader) will remember from the entries (de qui méditera). His thought remains anchored in the perspective of a future that is always open, or never closed. However, the expectation concerns the present moment, and even more so the poem—the moment of this poem (“today”), the hic of the fountain and the nunc (“today”) of the visitor. [19] The philosopher ensures the broadest possible philosophical justification—immutable, existential, ontological—of what is to come. But the supplicant will be more demanding. It is this hour that counts, what it brings and what will be given to it. Celan has come for that purpose: so that his host, if he thinks, should think not of death in the abstract (Sein zum Tod, “Being-towards-death”), but of the victims murdered in the camps. The “word,” for a thinker, would be to agree to this and to reserve a place in his philosophical system for the extermination, as the poet does in his poetical work. The poet’s insistence is not relegated to an infinite opening; it relates to an immediate realization.
Du Bouchet’s reading of the text is instructive (1989:81–88). The appeal becomes a lesson. “Meditation” ennobles. The poet is presumed to have come so as to understand the other, his partner, when in fact he is issuing an order. Thus the conflict is erased, and with it, the reason for the visit that the poet, unwillingly, had decided to make. The philosopher will not bend. During the drive after lunch he is careful not to do anything but recall his own vision of history, and that confirms all Celan’s misgivings. [20]
No doubt du Bouchet could not see that in his translation he only half-filled in the gulf or the abyss that the philosopher opened up. The “monstrous” appears. Du Bouchet is Heideggerizing. The driver (a student who is present during the conversation) hears what is said; Celan attributes to him the role of witness, an objective “third party” (stanza 7). What is said is remembered; lui-même à son écoute (“he himself listening”) does not convey that. It should be entendre dire (“hearing [what is] said”). The translation, as is so often the case, is too refined; it misses a simpler rendering that would maintain the precision. Questing too deeply into language makes the meaning disappear. The driver hears what is said; he is charged with preserving memory and with transmitting it to the future.
In his talk in Tübingen in 1986, du Bouchet returned to this passage in the poem. He made a serious error: “thus, along the way [a telling expression of his approach], in the poem titled ‘Todtnauberg,’ where, more than in the book, or books [implying the presence of a great number of books, where there is in fact only one, the one in which successive guests have left traces], belonging to the philosopher Paul Celan wished to visit one day, there emerges, I believe, what might be the origin of a poem.” Theory regains the upper hand. Du Bouchet ought to have identified the reason for the “wish.” Is he thinking about the “way”? About the unexpected benefit of a meeting? The truth of a “way of thinking,” which Celan knew well and had always opposed, emerged clearly during a meeting. Borrowing du Bouchet’s terms, we could say that it took place “along the way,” that is, that it had been planned, then staged by the poet, who knew perfectly well what he was taking on. He knew that he would not be heard (du Bouchet, too much of a Heideggerian and a phenomenologist, could not see this), but that the wound of discord would first of all be exposed, and then would remain open. In both situations—du Bouchet faced with Hölderlin, Heidegger faced with the Nazi past—Celan speaks in the name of a tribunal. Du Bouchet had just written, paraphrasing Heraclitus: [21] “what one wishes for is not always desirable.” (Did Celan’s desire go astray in this wish?) The return to this crucial stanza in Celan’s poem, which du Bouchet appropriates, is in line with the localization of nothing, of an “origin” (Ursprung) outside a particular language (langue) lodged in language (langage). This non-being is obvious in the layout of du Bouchet’s printed page, in all the blank spaces that separate and disconnect. He is twice confronted with the cruelty of fascist speech. Celan relates this nothingness to the incomprehensible babble of insanity, the Pallaksch that expresses Hölderlin’s denial. However, in the situation of the drive in the Black Forest, so carefully circumscribed, the philosopher, in the car that “carries him away,” gets “carried away” in turn by exposing his hand, as anticipated. He confirmed and sealed his old commitments to Hitler. In du Bouchet’s 1986 talk, the political dimension that guided Celan is completely overlooked.
One might go further, moving away from the meaning of the texts but approaching instead du Bouchet’s conception of the language of poetry. What could be better than all these books, a whole library (we understand the importance of the plural that he introduces), and the whole culture, a receptacle of all the chance currents of history? The line break certainly raises this question. They left the cottage, getting back to a less absolute “outside.” The “along the way” expresses the whole truth. The visit was nothing but a whim on Celan’s part, a place where “he wanted to go one day,” on impulse or out of envy. Du Bouchet’s reading becomes clear. What Celan hears the other person say in the car would be remarks about the pine trees, about the great moments revealed by a truer nature, between fire and water. Du Bouchet situates the “appearances” against a background of absence. He provides a reading independent of words that rehabilitates Heidegger, leads back to himself and at the same time to his own aesthetics.

André du Bouchet often sent my wife and me signed copies of his publications. He regularly informed me of his interest in mine. These are beautiful letters. I cannot remember all that I sent him—probably several of my interpretations of Celan. He read them with inevitably contradictory feelings, opening himself to them, questioning them and defending himself; in 1992, when he sent us Axiales, he wrote: “in true agreement, disagreement and friendship”; in 1994, for Carnet, he wrote: “the thick layers of time sometimes crossed / with my friendly regards”; this was a step in a precise direction. Then, going much further in 1996 (Pourquoi si calmes): “in admiration of his exegesis and the incessant advance of meaning / their friend.” It is in this book that we find the reflection “Autour du mot la neige est réunie” (“Snow is gathered around the word”), a return to Celan’s language that I probably helped to bring about.
Du Bouchet was surely shaken by my discussion of “The Mountain of Death.” He wrote to me on April 17, 1997:
Dear Jean,
This generous and courageous book reached me in Paris; a few health problems have kept me here. Reading your book has thrown some light on my own difficulties with syntax. By the way, as you say so well, reading the poem, which is already so familiar, as if one had never read it before, places limits on decoding at the same time, if—once more—one can be led to read it in the dimension that again escapes us. I see myself there, thrown back on my own difficulties with reading and syntax, however indefensible they may be, and which I usually do not experience as difficulties. But the conversation you keep opening will always be both profitable and enlightening for me.
To you and Mayotte, my regards and admiration, from your old friend, André.
The repetition of the word “syntax” may seem surprising. It is the tool of clarification. According to du Bouchet, the poet “usually” cares nothing about it. In the end the argumentation remains dogmatic. My own reading renews and changes the data, but it is as if the newness is proof above all of the resources of language, transcending still more, in the composed work, all the obsessions, and as if the process would otherwise have to be challenged.
One evening when Celan was accompanying me (here again I know where: we were walking along the quays on the way home from a talk at the Goethe Institute on the Avenue d’Iéna in Paris), he said—just like that, without any context—that the vocabulary of du Bouchet, whose work he was translating or had translated (Vakante Glut / Dans la chaleur vacante was published in 1968), was limited. He was unquestionably implying that du Bouchet should have moved beyond the restrictions or the asceticism he had imposed upon himself. A different outside demanded words other than those devoured by the empty spaces on the page. Du Bouchet was to be found in his empty spaces; Celan discovered in these same spaces a whole literary tradition, an expressive force that was not, after all, unique to du Bouchet.
At the closing session of the colloquium dedicated to Celan’s work at the Maison des Écrivains in 1995, du Bouchet came to read his translation of “The Meridian.” He knew that other translations had been produced in the interim, and he had not revised his text. He read it very deliberately, like a document written by him and in his language. He delivered it just as it was, like something that had been important in his life at one time. In this gesture, as elsewhere, there was both obstinacy and a natural honesty.
For du Bouchet, poetry formed a truth, much as the heritage of past thinkers concerns philosophers. He included certain authors and excluded others. Celan proceeded in the same way, to some extent, but the split was not cultural: it was based on a conscious decision; it was more radical. In short, there was no poetry but his own. Different from others’, his was both personal and definable; it had its own criteria. The rejections were not implicit, nor were the (less common) alliances. It was thus a constitutively positive relationship to a whole literary tradition that led du Bouchet almost spontaneously to include Celan, out of admiration and friendship but also necessity, in the circle he set up for himself. These choices are cultural, or perhaps aesthetic. Celan isolates himself, he separates himself more than he seeks himself, otherwise he would be less subversive. The “person” he speaks about in his reflections precedes any entry into language—whether, if one adopts du Bouchet’s point of view, it be that of a Baudelaire or a Reverdy (Mallarmé, overly autonomous, is obviously exempt). Du Bouchet allows himself to be guided by his philosophical concepts, almost by a system. Nothingness will no longer be the same; it is, as it were, embodied.

A definitive clarification

In 1996, in “Autour du mot la neige est revenue,” with the repetition of the word neige so characteristic of Celan’s language, du Bouchet returned to the discussion and to a difference of which he became more clearly aware at that moment (1996:11–16). [22] Thus the two points of view can be contrasted. He argues, spells out his own position, transforms, and challenges. From reference to history and events, to which as a poet he declares he cannot submit, he passes resolutely to an ambition to orient and transcend language, and to a kind of metaphysics. His demonstration focuses on words associated with “terrible” (and “terror”). Of the thirty-six units, small blocks that divide the page according to the style of poetic composition, these two words recur in some form nine times: once on page 12, then five times on page 13, twice on page 14, and once more on page 15. If one were referring to the reality of war, suppressions, and annihilation, one would shake off much firmer and more radical wellsprings of poetic work. Du Bouchet depends on a prior authority to which nothingness (and consequently all forms of absence and destruction) remains attached above all else. Du Bouchet takes a strong stand; he is defending a fundamental cause, and so, without losing his customary style, he composes, better than an ars poetica, an authentic well-formed plea in favor of his art before an adversary. One can sense his fury.
The position of the adversary is constructed with words drawn from Celan’s poems, which du Bouchet listens to again in his own way, reinterprets, and transposes. The references take little or no notice of their original context; to this extent, they remain indeterminate in an absence of meaning.
From the start, a certain transcendence is introduced by way of a borrowing from Celan’s “L’entretien dans la montagne” (“Conversation in the Mountains”); [23] these are the two colors of “nature” (“green” and “white”). What characterizes a language, in Celan’s text, to which the two Jews who are talking have no access, [24] is presented by du Bouchet as the language of an external space (“which, outside, is the language of the glacier” [du Bouchet 1996, p. 11, line 8 [25] ]). It is not the other, nor is it a tradition to be adapted, but a language outside the human realm, a language that is at the same time and by analogy the approach to a “self” (11,10). The conclusion is formulated starting on the first page—there is no place for any “name” (the “name” in Celan tells the truth). Du Bouchet, in the tension of the “meantime” that he conjectures (12, 1), knows for himself, and as for himself, that “the elements” involved are “not solely those of his language” (12, 9). Transcendence claims its due. With the disappearance of time, we approach another kind of “terrible,” reconfigured as a meta-presence (12, 6–10). Du Bouchet refers to another term—Schreibzähnen (“writing-teeth”)—in Celan’s collection Schneepart (Snow Part):
To speak with the blind alleys
of the opposite,
of its
to chew
this bread, with
writing-teeth. [26]
Languages are obviously situated within the limits of the human, almost superhuman, mission. One needs “teeth.” Du Bouchet re-translates; he escapes the impasse and finds the “bite … of the elementary.” The displacement allows him to reconsolidate the powers of the outside as action taking place inside, close to language. The terrible is removed and installed elsewhere; it has infinitely more sovereignty than history: “Not a word can be placed on it” (12, 17). From this one has to deduce that “to the terrible, which is the subject of Paul Celan’s poetry, it [that poetry] will not have returned, strictly speaking” (13, 1–2). The last words drive in the nail; they describe in positive terms the system as du Bouchet conceives it. The misunderstanding is not, cannot be, specified; there is a basic incompatibility between two poetic pursuits that will never see eye to eye. These remarks are merely details. Another’s word—an opinion—is transformed into a retort, a blunt rejection. Celan’s “terrible” basically repudiates the real terror that nourishes poetry, in du Bouchet’s view. Thus du Bouchet tries to explicate the most intimate experiences produced by writing (see the progression in the description or successive definitions of negativity [13, 2–6]). Moving forward in the exploration of the “unknown elementary components” (13, 18), he considers that he has taken “a step outside the human” (in italics in the text, 13, 20–21). Does he think he has encountered Celan’s strangeness, when Celan has alienated himself in order to break free from discourse-obstacles? The “step” for du Bouchet reveals an internal and integrated antecedence, an absolute anteriority in speech. He communicates an experiment he purports to have carried out on language.
The “outside” opens onto closer cohabitations; provisionally, one can “share oneself” with that outside (14, 2). In this first section, which is more audacious and speculative, du Bouchet refers to two poems in the collection Atemwende (Breathturn): on the one hand, he mentions—from the end of the first part of the collection—a very carefully composed poem, “Weggebeizt” (“Eroded”), which does not interest him; on the other hand, he goes on to consider “Singbarer Rest” (“Singable Remnant”). [27] From these poems he retains two expressions, two ideas, that of a residue (or “survival”) and that of hospitality, found in the context of the glacial structures, revealing the complex relations stemming from the interventions of the external pole. [28]
A logic follows its course. How can a great poet not be affected by a system whose power another poet has felt? Should the system not be re-integrated at all costs, instead of being assimilated, when it is a question of poetry itself, of its practice?

Works Cited

Allemann, B. 1959. Hölderlin et Heidegger: recherche sur la relation entre poésie et pensée. Trans. F. Fédier. Paris. Orig. pub. 1954.
Bollack, J. 1996. “Le Mont de la mort. Le sens d’une rencontre entre Celan et Heidegger, un commentaire du poème ‘Todtnauberg.’” Lignes 29:157–188. Repr. in J. Bollack, La Grèce de personne (Paris, 1997), 349–376.
———. 2001. Poésie contre poésie, Celan et la littérature. Paris.
Bollack, J., and H. Wismann. 1995. Héraclite ou la séparation. Paris. Orig. pub. 1972.
Böschenstein, B. 1988. “Hölderlin in Frankreich. Seine Gegenwart in Dichtung und Übersetzung.” Hölderlin-Jahrbuch 26 (1988–1989):304–320.
Celan, P. 1968. “Tübingen/Jänner.” Trans. A. du Bouchet. L’Éphémère 7:22–23.
———. 1978. Poèmes de Paul Celan. Trans. A. du Bouchet. Paris.
———. 1983. Gesammelte Werke. Ed. B. Allemann et al. 7 vols. Frankfurt.
———. 1986. Paul Celan, Poèmes. Trans. A. du Bouchet. Bilingual edition. Paris.
———. 1989. Poems of Paul Celan. Trans. M. Hamburger. New York.
———. 1995. Paul Celan, Franz Wurm: Briefwechsel. Ed. B. Wiedemann with F. Wurm. Frankfurt. Orig. pub. 1965.
———. 1997. Die Gedichte aus dem Nachlass. Ed. B. Badiou, J.-C. Rambach, and B. Wiedemann. Frankfurt.
———. 1999. Der Meridian: Endfassung-Entwürfe-Materialien. Ed. B. Böschenstein and H. Schmull. Frankfurt.
———. 2001. Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan. Ed. and trans. J. Felstiner. New York.
———. 2004. Strette. Poèmes + Le Méridien and L’entretien dans la montagne. Trans. A. du Bouchet. Paris. Orig. pub. 1971.
———. 2009. Choix de poèmes. Ed. J.-M. Maulpoix. Paris.
———. 2014. Breathturn into Timestead. Trans. P. Joris. New York.
Derrida, J. 1994. “Shibboleth: for Paul Celan.” Trans. Joshua Wilner. In Word Traces: Readings of Paul Celan, ed. A. Fioretos, 3–72. Baltimore, MD. Orig. pub. 1986.
Du Bouchet, A. 1970. “Hölderlin aujourd’hui.” L’Éphémère 14 (Summer):158–170.
———. 1988. “Tübingen, le 22 mai 1986.” Hölderlin-Jahrbuch 26 (1988–1989):343–359.
———. 1989. Désaccordée comme par de la neige et Tübingen, le 22 mai 1986. Paris. Orig. pub. 1988.
———. 1996. Pourquoi si calmes. Saint-Clément de Rivière.
Hölderlin, J. C. F. 1955-1956. “Friedensfeier.” Trans. J. Bollack. Hölderlin-Jahrbuch 9:226–231.
———. 1980. Poems and Fragments. Trans. M. Hamburger. New York. Orig. pub. 1966.
Jallet, G. 2006. “‘Dans la langue, le pourri’: André du Bouchet et Paul Celan.” In Le crâne de Schiller: langue incomparable de la tête de mort. Paris.
Lacoue-Labarthe, P. 1999. Poetry as Experience. Trans. A. Tarnowski. Stanford. Orig. pub. 1986.
Martinez, V. N. d. Aux sources du dehors: poésie, pensée, perception dans l’oeuvre d’André du Bouchet. Unpublished dissertation.
Meschonnic, H. 1973. Pour la poétique II: épistémologie de l’écriture poétique dans la traduction. Paris.


[ back ] * Originally published as “Entre Hölderlin et Celan,” in: Europe: revue littéraire mensuelle 986–987 (2011), pp. 193–207.
[ back ] 1. The topic was proposed by Bernard Böschenstein. The text of the lecture appeared in the Society’s yearbook (du Bouchet 1988). It includes a general outline by Böschenstein in German: “Hölderlin in Frankreich. Seine Gegenwart in Dichtung und Übersetzung” (“Hölderlin in France. His presence in poetry and in the translation of his work”) (304–320); then comes the German translation of du Bouchet’s presentation (321–342), followed by the French text (343–359). This latter text was published the following year (1989) as “Tübingen, le 22 mai 1986” by Mercure de France, together with “Désaccordée comme par de la neige.”
[ back ] 2. [TN: Here is the German text, followed by an English translation:
Zur Blindheit über-
Redete Augen.
Rätsel ist Rein—
entsprungenes”—, ihre
Erinnerung an
Schwimmenden Hölderlintürme, möwen—

Besuche ertrunkener Schreiner bei
tauchenden Worten:

käme ein Mensch,
käme ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit
dem Lichtbart der
Patriarchen: er dürfte,
Spräch er von dieser
Zeit, er
nur lallen und lallen,
immer-, immer-

(“Pallaksch. Pallaksch”)
The quotation in lines 3–5 is from Hölderlin’s poem “Der Rhein.” The last line represents a word Hölderlin used frequently during his periods of insanity; according to Jallet (2006:192), the word could be a dialectal form of Yiddish, meaning “perhaps,” that the poet may have heard in the Jewish communities in the Rhineland.
Eyes talked into
Their – “an enigma is
the purely
originated”—, their
memory of
Hölderlin’s towers afloat, circled
by whirring gulls.

Visits of drowning joiners to
Submerging words:

should a man,
should a man come into the world, today, with
the shining beard of the
patriarchs: he could
if he spoke of this
time, he
only babble and babble
over, over

(“Pallaksh. Pallaksh.”)
Michael Hamburger’s translation (Celan 1988:177); Du Bouchet’s French translation can be found in Celan 1986:28.]
[ back ] 3. See Bollack’s preface to Wismann and König, 2011:13–19.
[ back ] 4. [TN: Hölderlin’s work was appropriated by the Nazi regime. The centenary of his death was celebrated in Tübingen in 1943 in the presence of a group of Nazi dignitaries (Jallet 2006:174). The Hölderlin Society was founded at that time under Goebbels’ aegis (Jallet 2006:176).]
[ back ] 5. See Hölderlin 1955–1956. [TN: A holograph of the poem was discovered in 1954.]
[ back ] 6. [TN: Hölderlin 1980:428–429.]
[ back ] 7. “De la dissolution du langage poétique. ‘Tübingen, janvier’ de Paul Celan,” in Bollack 2001:105–138.
[ back ] 8. Allemann 1959. In Zurich, the Germanist Beda Allemann was a disciple of Emil Staiger, a professor and critic who was greatly influenced (to put it mildly) by Heidegger. Allemann was the editor of Celan’s posthumous work; he remained true to Heidegger’s line of thinking. One might call it orthodoxy; for the followers, it was not only necessary, but experienced as an initiation or a liberation, establishing a way of being and a habitus.
[ back ] 9. See Lacoue-Labarthe 1999.
[ back ] 10. “He: the true Lenz, Büchner’s, Büchner’s figure, the person we perceived on the story’s first page, the Lenz who ‘went walking in the mountains on the 20th of January,’ he—not the artist and one concerned with the questions of art, but he as an I” (Celan 2001:407); and, in the preparatory notes: “we are still writing, even today, January 20—that January 20—this January 20, to which a certain number of things have since been added, in writing” (Celan 1999:30). [TN: The reference is to Georg Büchner’s unfinished novella Lenz, written in 1836 and published after his death in 1837. Lenz was a poet who suffered from schizophrenia. See Michael Hamburger’s translation (West Newbury, MA, 1969).]
[ back ] 11. Celan 2001:412. (“Ich hatte mich, das eine wie das andere Mal, von einem ‘20.Jänner,’ von meinem ‘20. Jänner,’ hergeschrieben. Ich bin … mir selbst begegnet” [Celan 1999:11]). In Büchner’s work it is not a premonition; the date becomes significant and reveals its import to the reader. In “Shibboleth: for Paul Celan” (1994:3–72), Jacques Derrida develops a long construct around the date in itself, in such a way that he empties the reference of its precise application.
[ back ] 12. Du Bouchet 1989:69.
[ back ] 13. “Krudes,” in the poem “Todtnauberg,” where “the coarse” is called “monstrous”; see below, p. 343.
[ back ] 14. Jallet 2006:173–193.
[ back ] 15. Hölderlin 1966; cited from Hölderlin 1980:410. [TN: In German there is a play on the homonyms “Rhein” (“Rhine”) and “rein” (“pure”).]
[ back ] 16. Meschonnic 1973:367–405.
[ back ] 17. See “Le Mont de la mort: le sens d’une rencontre entre Celan et Heidegger, un commentaire du poème ‘Todtnauberg,’” in Bollack 1997:349–376. Du Bouchet had probably not read it in Michel Surya’s review Lignes (Bollack 1996)—his Pourquoi si calmes was published the same year—but rather in my 1997 book.
[ back ] 18. [TN: English translation from Celan 1988:293.] Here is du Bouchet’s translation of the lines from “Todtnauberg”:
la ligne dans le livre
—quels sont les noms
accueillis avant le mien?—
la ligne écrite
dans le livre
touchant l’espoir
dans le coeur, aujourd’hui,
d’un mot
à venir
(à venir incessamment)
de la part d’un penseur
[ back ] 19. [TN: Reference in earlier lines in the poem to the “fountain,” a well from which Celan drank (Celan 1988:293).]
[ back ] 20. See below, Chap. 27, “The Mountain of Death.”
[ back ] 21. See frag. 110 in Bollack and Wismann 1995:308–309.
[ back ] 22. [TN: The collection Pourquoi si calmes included “Autour du mot la neige est revenue” (“Around the word snow has come back”), an essay in which du Bouchet (1996:92) focused on Celan’s work.]
[ back ] 23. “Gespräch im Gebirg,” Celan 1983, 3:169–173; in English, cited below from Celan 2001:397–400.
[ back ] 24. [TN: “Jew Gross” and “Jew Klein” are the two speakers in the “Conversation in the Mountains,” representing Adorno and Celan in a planned meeting in the Engadine valley that did not take place (see above, Chapter 25.)
[ back ] 25. Further citations from this text are given in abbreviated form, with the line number following the page number.
[ back ] 26. “Mit den Sackgassen sprechen,” Celan 1983, 2:31, 36; in English, “To speak with the blind alleys,” Celan 2014:342–345.
[ back ] 27. Celan 1983, 2:31, 36; Celan 2014:18–19, 20–21.
[ back ] 28. See du Bouchet 1996: 14, line 6 to the end.