A short while ago Patrick Kurp wrote a piece on Primo Levi’s conflicted perspective on the work of Paul Celan. More recently, James Buchan at the Guardian’s Book Blog discusses Ian Fairley’s translation of Celan’s Schneepart, and in the process, sheds light on the role of the darkness and obscurity that Levi saw in much of Celan’s work. Kurp mentioned in his piece how Celan seemed, in Todesfuge, to have reached a sort of dead-end of language; a style that can seem hopelessly impenetrable and labyrinthine. Buchan movingly defends the collapse of language in Celan, saying:
“Only when language is utterly disabled, it seems, can it articulate, in some abandoned region at the end of space and history, a fugitive echo of reality.”
The ornate and complicated forms in Celan’s poetry may estrange some readers, but when we consider their uncanny resemblance to the grotesquery of reality, the purpose of these elaborate shapes becomes clear to us.