[Cz-L] Todesfuge dreams

From: David Glynn <glynn_at_spontini.co.uk>
Date: Sun, 19 Oct 2014 15:43:15 +0100
Reply-To: "David Glynn" <glynn_at_spontini.co.uk>
To: "czernowitz-l" <czernowitz-l_at_list.cornell.edu>

There was an interesting piece in "The Times" last Monday 13th October, in
David Aaronovitch's "Notebook" column.


“The paradox of Germany, in paint and poetry”

Someone opens a door for you, hands you a thread like Ariadne’s and you
follow it, having no idea where it leads. Last Thursday the British Museum
let me in early to the “Germany: Memories of a Nation” exhibition, which
opens this week. It is not a huge Tutankhamun of a display, but intimate
with relatively few objects and pictures, each acting as a portal to a
bigger thought beyond.

The beginning of one thread is a small, beautiful picture by the artist
Anselm Kiefer, who turns 70 next year. It is of yellow corn against a
darkening sky and Kiefer has painted through the corn, in black, the words
“dein goldenes haar, Margarethe” – your golden hair, Margarethe.

Who was Margarethe? The caption told me that the line was from a poem and a
poet I’d never heard of, “Todesfuge” (“Death Fugue”) by Paul Celan.

When I got home I followed the thread. Celan was a Romanian Jew. As a
young man he and his family had been sent to the camps and only he survived.
In 1945, the year Kiefer was born, Celan wrote “Todesfuge”; it was published
three years later and it has disrupted my autumn.

Margarete (Celan spells it without the “h”) is, I imagine, a German beauty,
with the same name as the woman whom the anti-hero of Goethe’s “Faust”
loves. Shulamith is a Hebrew name. The final five lines read: “a man lives
in the house your golden hair Margarete/ he sets his pack on to us he grants
us a grave in the air/ he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a
master from Germany/ your golden hair Margarete/ your ashen hair Shulamith”.

Since Thursday this is all I can think about; this being the paradox of 20th
century Germany – “der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland” – and of the
idealistic terrorist. It’s how desire and horror can coexist, how the
killer can be a romantic, how we and everyone we love can become ash because
of someone else’s dream. And now – if you’d never heard of Celan either –
the thread is in your hand.


"Todesfuge" of course we know well. But I would be very interested to hear
anyone's thoughts or reactions to this piece.

Best wishes to all,


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Received on 2014-10-20 18:52:15

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